SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Tulane coach Curtis Johnson spoke briskly after his team’s 52-17 loss to Syracuse, having come to terms with the reality of his team’s situation at halftime. Plagued by costly turnovers Saturday, the Green Wave couldn’t get out of its own way.
“We’re not good enough where we can have penalties or turnovers and be competitive,” Johnson said. “It’s forcing our coordinators to call the perfect play, and that’s just too hard.”
Playing tight end Matt Marfisi at snapper on special teams instead of Michael Lizanich contributed to two blocked punts and a blocked field goal that ultimately put the game out of reach at halftime. Marfisi has never played snapper before, and Johnson said the decision to replace Lizanich entering the game was performance-based.
“Special teams really hurt us,” Johnson said. “(Marfisi) hadn’t done it in all of his career, and we had to find a guy to do it. He was pretty slow and inconsistent.”
Tulane trailed 14-3 in the first quarter when a punt from its own 17-yard-line was blocked by Darius Kelly and recovered by Syracuse’s Durell Eskridge at the 6-yard line. Two plays later, Orange quarterback Terrell Hunt found fullback Clay Cleveland wide open for a 5-yard touchdown.
The Green Wave responded with a score on the next drive, as Rob Kelly powered straight ahead and broke through a line of Syracuse defenders for a 45-yard touchdown that narrowed Syracuse’s lead to 21-10 at the end of the first quarter.
After Tulane’s defense allowed just four red zone touchdowns in its first three games, it watched the Orange get three in the first quarter. Three Syracuse drives led to three straight touchdowns, all of which took less than three minutes, and when the Green Wave forced the first Orange punt of the game at the start of the second quarter, it lead to more costly errors.
Returner Kendrick Banks let the punt drop, but then started backpedaling toward the ball to field it, even though it was surrounded by Syracuse defenders. The ball touched his leg on a bounce, and Syracuse’s Devante McFarlane immediately fell on it to give the Orange another short field at the Tulane 15-yard line. Syracuse took advantage of the turnover on a 16-yard rushing touchdown by Hunt to make it 28-10.
The Green Wave went three-and-out on the next drive and again had a punt blocked deep in its own territory, the ball swatted out of bounds at the Tulane 17-yard line.
Syracuse capitalized on the error once again, scoring on a 1-yard run by Prince-Tyson Gulley.
“I take all of the responsibility on that and getting the ball off faster,” punter Peter Picerelli said. “It’s something we can’t have, especially trying to come in here and win this game.”
The proverbial nail in the coffin came on a Tulane first-and-goal. The Green Wave benefited from two Syracuse penalties within the 8-yard-line, giving Tulane nine downs to score a touchdown. But the Wave settled for lining up a 32-yard field goal by Cairo Santos, the 2012 Lou Groza Award winner who had a streak of 26 consecutive field goals made.
That kick was blocked, too.
“We were in a good position and we just have to score,” quarterback Nick Montana said. “There’s no way around it.”
Montana was 22-of-38 for 213 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
After the first half ended with an Orange 1-yard touchdown with four seconds left to make it 42-17 at halftime, Johnson said his team was demoralized. It was the most points Syracuse had scored in the first half since it also had 42 against Rhode Island in 2002, too much for the Green Wave to rebound from. Tulane failed to score in the second half.
“I just thought they had our number today,” Johnson said. “They did an outstanding job.”
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