Starting quarterback Tanner Lee will miss Tulane’s game against 24th-ranked Houston on Friday night after being diagnosed with a concussion.
Coach Curtis Johnson said Lee, a redshirt sophomore who played Jesuit High School, likely suffered the concussion in the first quarter of the Green Wave’s 49-10 loss to Temple on Saturday but was not evaluated until going to the locker room late in the third quarter. He was held out the rest of the way and was unavailable for postgame interviews.
Lee, who had thrown two interceptions through Tulane’s first four games, tossed two interceptions in the second half against Temple, which returned one of them for a touchdown. He also threw a pass directly into a linebacker’s hands late in the first half, but he dropped it.
Tulane led 10-7 early in the second quarter before Temple scored the final 42 points.
“I was wondering why we were playing so bad, and (Lee) just kept staying in the game,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘Gosh, son, you can’t do that.’ Now after the game we know why, but Tanner’s such a competitor that he wanted to be in the game and he wanted to win.
“I’d never put a kid in jeopardy and he knows that, so he’ll be out this week.”
In the second quarter, the Tulane medical staff evaluated Lee and he exhibited no signs nor symptoms of a concussion.
He was re-evaluated at halftime and once again displayed no signs or symptoms of a concussion. In the fourth quarter, Tanner reported symptoms to the Tulane medical staff and was immediately removed for the remainder of the game.
“We knew something was off, but we didn’t know exactly what it was,” Johnson said. “The game was going fast after we started off so well. I think it was a combination of hits. He took one early, but he took one, two, three, and finally when they saw (symptoms of a concussion), they took him to the locker room. He wasn’t groggy or anything like that.”
Lee is 4-11 in 15 career starts, but he played his best game last year against Houston, leading Tulane to a 31-24 upset on the road while completing 24 of 35 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns.
In place of Lee, redshirt junior Devin Powell, a former O. Perry Walker High School player, will get his first start in two years and the fourth of his career. He won his past two starts against East Carolina and Tulsa in 2013, helping Tulane reach its first bowl game in 11 seasons.
Powell also started a shutout loss to Ole Miss early in 2012 before being redshirted with a foot injury. He has played in four games this year in a mop-up roll, completing 5 of 8 passes for 69 yards with a touchdown. His career numbers are modest: 105 of 201 for 1,116 yards and seven touchdowns with eight interceptions.
“We’ll do a little bit less (offensively), and Devin may run a little bit more (than Lee),” Johnson said. “He’s done this before, so he should be familiar and do some of the same things.”
Redshirt senior Jordy Joseph, a former walk-on, and redshirt freshman Glen Cuillette split repetitions as the backup to Powell in Tuesday’s practice. Joseph has thrown four career passes, including three this year. Cuillette’s only action was taking a knee on the final play of a victory against Maine.
“Jordy’s probably a little ahead because he knows a little bit more,” Johnson said. “Glen will be able to run better and has a stronger arm.”
Still, it will be Powell’s game. One of his two wins as a starter in 2013 came against a bowl team when he threw two touchdown passes in overtime before Tulane beat East Carolina 36-33 on a Cairos Santos field goal in the third overtime. He also had two scoring tosses as the Wave beat Tulsa 14-7 two weeks later.
“He’s the consummate backup,” Johnson said. “It may not look pretty, but hopefully he’ll give us a Michael Vick performance like last night where Vick didn’t do much but it was close and then all of a sudden at the end he did some things (producing two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 24-20 win against Kansas City). He’s a backup that gives you a chance to win.”
Tulane (2-3, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) likely will need to score plenty of points to keep up with Houston (5-0, 2-0), which opened as a 14-point favorite and had become an 18-point favorite before Lee’s status prompted most Las Vegas sports books to take the game off the board on Tuesday afternoon.
The Cougars rank sixth nationally in total offense (573.4 yards per game) and scoring (46.4 points per game). Quarterback Greg Ward Jr., who threw three interceptions against Tulane last year, averages 260.4 passing yards with eight touchdown tosses and one interception. He also has run for a team-best 554 yards and 11 scores.
“We always have faith in our backup,” said linebacker Nico Marley, Tulane’s leading tackler. “Obviously our bowl year Devin stepped in when Nick Montana got hurt and did a great job. I don’t think we’ve taken a step back.”
Johnson said running back Lazedrick Thompson likely would miss his second consecutive game with a sprained ankle, but he said cornerback Richard Allen (sprained ankle) might return against Houston after sitting out against Temple. … For the first time in five games Johnson anticipates no new suspensions, with freshman receiver Rickey Preston ticketed to come back from his one-game suspension for a violation of team policy.