Tulane players and coaches said all the right things after a disappointing, frustrating 17-16 homecoming loss to American Athletic Conference cellar dweller Cincinnati on Saturday.
They talked about the possibility of winning out to become bowl eligible, meeting one of their primary preseason goals. They talked about how they would keep fighting and working to correct the mistakes that have haunted them during their four-game losing streak.
Historically for Tulane, the problem has been turning that talk into anything more than words. Past players under previous coaching staffs have uttered the exact same thoughts when they were on the verge of a losing season, but they almost always continued to lose.
Since 2005, Tulane (3-6, 1-4 American Athletic Conference) has never won twice in a row right after sustaining its sixth defeat. The Green Wave has won twice for the rest of the season only once, beating UTEP and Rice in 2007 after sliding to 2-7.
The Green Wave’s record in November over that span is a miserable 9-40.
Somehow, the Wave will have to find a way to go 3-0 at East Carolina (2-7, 1-4), at home against Houston (6-3, 4-2) and at SMU (6-3, 3-2) to overcome that horrible history.
Quarterback Jonathan Banks didn't have specifics when asked what the Wave needed to do differently to break out of its slump.
"Honestly, that's not my call,” he said. “We've just got to get in the film room and just get better at what we do offensively."
The problems go across the board. Tulane has not recorded a sack during its four-game skid, applying some pressure but failing to finish the play. Nose guard Sean Wilson broke through the middle and had his sights set on Cincinnati's Hayden Moore on the Bearcats’ first series of the second half Saturday, but Moore eluded him easily and scrambled for 4 yards on first-and-15.
Instead of having second-and-forever, Cincinnati converted a second-and-11 easily on its way to the decisive touchdown.
Tulane defensive backs had repeated breakdowns that allowed for easy pitch-and-catch play, setting up or accounting for all of Cincinnati’s scores. Coach Willie Fritz had stressed the importance of making opponents work for points after Memphis hit the Wave with a series of huge plays, but the same issues cropped up again.
Other than true freshman free safety Chase Kuerschen, all of Tulane’s starters in the secondary are upperclassmen with at least one year of starting experience.
“Really, it’s just getting guys focusing in more,” junior strong safety Roderic Teamer said. “We can watch more film as a unit, get extra work in and just relay calls back and forth in practice, but there's not really one thing you can say to change that. That's just something we are going to have to deal with and get through.”
Teamer, who calls the signals in the secondary, admitted he could not put his finger on the exact problem.
"I honestly can't tell you 100 percent what the miscommunication was,” he said. "It's something missing there. I'm going to find out when we watch the film with the coaches. It only takes one person to get confused for a big play to happen.”
Tulane, which was on pace to break the school record for rushing yards midway through the season, struggled to run for the second straight week. The Wave gained 132 yards on the ground against Cincinnati after picking up 122 at Memphis.
Still, Banks almost willed the Wave to victory, scrambling 53 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and completing 18 of 25 passes for 226 yards with no interceptions.
“He did some good things,” Fritz said. “It's a tough position, quarterback. You've got to be right on every play, and the guy's getting better. We have to find the things that he can do (best). He does some really good things out there.”
As a team, Tulane is not doing nearly enough. Before the Wave can even think about playing for bowl eligibility, it will have to stop the annual second-half-of-the-season rot against East Carolina on Saturday.
“Everybody’s keeping their heads up,” Teamer said. “We have to try to get the W there.”