Starting for the first time this year against ULM last Saturday, Tulane cornerback Jordan Batiste quickly went from the doghouse to the penthouse.
He earned Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week honors in the Green Wave’s 31-14 win, making a career-high eight tackles, intercepting a pass and finishing off the Warhawks with a blitz and strip sack that teammate Dominique Robertson turned into a 33-yard touchdown.
It was quite a bounceback for a guy who lost his starting job after being suspended for the first six quarters of the season for an undisclosed team violation.
“(The suspension) was real hard for me, emotionally and everything,” Batiste said. “I had to watch. I just prayed on it, stayed close to my family and got through it. I’m trying to make up for those games I lost every play.”
Actually, doghouse is probably too strong a term for where Batiste was at the beginning of the year. Tulane coach Curtis Johnson never doubted his character or his ability to overcome his off-the-field mistakes.
“We’ve disciplined everybody on the team, and it’s just part of being a team,” Johnson said Tuesday. “He is a great player and a great kid. I was messing with him a little bit today. I hit him at practice, and he didn’t hit me back, so I guess the discipline worked.”
Don’t look for Batiste a 5-foot-8, 169-pounder who packs a wallop for his size, to come out of the starting lineup any time soon. He played nickel in a three-cornerback alignment against ULM and, with Tulane (3-2, 1-0 Conference USA) entering a season-ending stretch of seven games in the spread offense-happy league, the Green Wave is likely to stay with that look.
North Texas (2-2) is up first Saturday for homecoming, with a 2:30 p.m. kickoff in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
With Batiste out, senior Jordan Sullen (6-0, 200) locked down the starting corner spot opposite Lorenzo Doss in preseason camp, but Batiste has found a home at nickelback, a spot where he started eight times last year.
“He can play any position in the secondary, regardless of his size,” defensive backs coach Jason Rollins said. “He could play safety if we needed him there, the nickel, the dime or the corner. He has all the skills. He can cover, and he can hit. He’s a tough guy.”
He also is experienced for a true sophomore, having enrolled at Tulane in January 2012 and participated in spring practice before the rest of his signing class arrived. Rooming with fellow sophomore secondary starters Doss and free safety Darion Monroe, he likes to joke about his extra maturity.
“I say, ‘Y’all are babies,’ ” he said. “I feel like a junior or something. It helped me a lot, because I had an extra semester in the weight room. It helped me mature in life and everything.”
Batiste was all over the field against ULM. Before his strip sack, which came on a blitz and gave the Wave a 24-0 lead in the third quarter, he hurried quarterback Kolton Browning into bad throws on consecutive plays to keep ULM out of the end zone in the first quarter.
The nickel spot allows him to rush the passer, cover and show off his versatility.
“He can do it all,” Doss said. “He can hit. He can cover. When the play’s going on, I just know he is going to lock the receiver down.”
Batiste said starting helped him play better. It’s a role to which he is accustomed after starting 10 times as a true freshman, but his suspension at the beginning of the year took that comfort away from him.
On Saturday, that feeling returned as Tulane won what could be a pivotal road game, recovering from an embarrassing 52-17 loss to Syracuse.
“We were feeding off of each other, and the emotion we showed after the play gets everybody going,” Batiste said. “You could kind of feel them try to ease up and get out of there at one point in time. It’s a good feeling when you can progressively see the other team giving up like that.”
The next task for Tulane, and Batiste, is winning two in a row. The Green Wave has lost 12 consecutive times following victories but can end that streak and get to 2-0 in Conference USA for the first time since 1998 by beating North Texas, a former Sun Belt Conference member that finished below .500 its past eight years.
With Batiste at his current form, Tulane’s odds are much better. Rivals.com rated him a three-star recruit when he arrived from Lutcher High School, and he is living up that promise.
“He comes to play every day,” quarterback Nick Montana said. “He’s a competitor. He’s not very big, but he plays a lot bigger than he is. It makes me better competing with him every day.”
Batiste wouldn’t talk about his preseason offense, but he admits it was his fault. Instead of sulking, he followed his mother’s advice to learn from his mistakes and deal with them responsibly.
“Since Day One, he’s had tremendous character, great parents and has toed the line,” Johnson said. “He’s done what he’s supposed to do. He’s playing at a high level, and I expect him to play like that because he’s that type of athlete.”
Tulane leads the nation with 29 passes defended, five more than any other team. Joked Rollins: “It says we’re DBs; we can’t catch.” … The Green Wave is trying to snap a six-game losing streak in homecoming games dating to a win against Army in 2006.