Peter Picerelli’s long stint as Tulane’s first-string punter may be coming to an end.
Coach Curtis Johnson said Tuesday he had opened up the competition, indicating freshman Zach Block could get the call over Picerelli on Saturday at Temple.
“It’s wide open,” Johnson said. “And after today, Block looks like he’s doing the better job.”
Picerelli, a senior, has punted 243 times in his career, but two attempts he did not get off this year likely have cost him his job as Tulane (2-2) begins a stretch of four games against teams that are a combined 17-0.
Picerelli missed a good snap that bounced off his hands and hit his facemask against Georgia Tech, and the Yellow Jackets took over at the Tulane 10-yard line after blocking his desperate attempt to salvage the situation.
Then, early in Tulane’s 45-31 victory against Central Florida on Saturday, he dropped the ball as he was stepping forward to punt it, giving the Knights possession at the Wave 18.
Tulane overcame that mistake against winless UCF but cannot afford similar issues at Temple (4-0), which is on the fringe of The Associated Press Top 25. The Owls beat Penn State 27-10 and won at Cincinnati 34-26.
“It’s a couple of times a year this has happened,” Johnson said. “Everybody else is hustling and doing what they gotta do. We all have to do it. I didn’t say anything to Picerelli because he knew. We warned him in the bye week. You have to catch those right in your hands.”
The last time anyone other than Picerelli punted for Tulane was Jonathan Ginsburg against Ole Miss on Sept. 22, 2012, but Picerelli has struggled the past two years even when he gets off the punt. After averaging 41.0 yards as a freshman and 41.5 yards as a sophomore, he dipped to 37.7 yards last season and 36.5 through four games this year.
Central Florida also blocked a punt in the second half when he appeared to take too long in his delivery.
Johnson said Block, from Clement, Florida, was hurt in the preseason, preventing him from really competing for the position.
He is healthy now.
“He looked good today,” Johnson said. “He looked real good. There’s a great chance (Block will be the punter against Temple.). He’s getting it off in a fast time.”
Punting issues have plagued Tulane the past two years. The Wave finally benched junior long snapper Mike Lizanich after he dribbled a snap that barely got past up-back Rob Kelley in the opener against Duke and airmailed a snap that turned into a safety against Georgia Tech, continuing a career-long trend.
Lizanich’s replacement, John Leglue, has been flawless in the past two games. The question is whether or not Block can produce similar results.
Temple (4-0) scored on a 100-yard kickoff return against Cincinnati, returned a blocked extra point 98 yards for two points against Massachusetts, and scored on a 16-yard return off a blocked punt against Charlotte.
“I was a little off suicide watch until I watched Temple’s special teams,” Johnson said. “Now I’m back on it again.”
Keeping them fresh
Tulane displayed its tremendous depth at running back against Central Florida, giving touches to six in the first half. Rob Kelley and Josh Rounds, fourth and fifth on the depth chart, carried first and combined for 25 rushing attempts. The backs ahead of them, Dontrell Hilliard (seven), Sherman Badie (five) and Lazedrick Thompson (one), combined for 13.
“We have to keep guys fresh,” Johnson said. “There are some knickknack injuries we have with all those backs, so we have to play them all. It’s a physical league.”
Late last year, Hilliard was Tulane’s only healthy back with appreciable experience.
“I learned my lesson from a year ago,” Johnson said. “We need all of them.”
Badie, Hilliard and Rounds all have rushes of 45 yards or longer this year. Thompson had a 37-yard gain nullified by a penalty against Central Florida.
Johnson said true freshman Roderic Teamer would get his first start against Temple, replacing Donnie Lewis at free safety. Teamer, a Brother Martin product, intercepted a pass, made three tackles and administered a monster hit against Central Florida. … Sophomore linebacker Zach Harris is out and may miss the rest of the year with a re-occurrence of the knee problem that sidelined him for the final seven games last season. Harris had 12 tackles off the bench in the first three games this year before sitting out against UCF. … Temple is favored by 16 points according to VegasInsider.com.