Tulane’s special teams made history Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and for once, it did not involve Lou Groza Award winner Cairo Santos.
When North Texas attempted a 38-yard field goal to go ahead 10-7 in the third quarter, Darion Monroe blocked the kick and teammate Derrick Strozier returned it 62 yards for the first touchdown off a field-goal block in the 119-year history of the program.
“It feels pretty good to be part of history at Tulane,” Monroe said.
Monroe blocked the kick with his facemask, and Strozier outran North Texas kicker Zach Olen to the end zone to give the Wave a 14-7 lead.
“All week in practice (special teams coach Barry Lamb) told us this was where they were susceptible,” Monroe said. “The guy reached around, and Nico (Marley) pulled the other guy so he couldn’t a hand on me. I got through and the ball hit me in the face.”
Going into the game, North Texas appeared to have a huge edge on special teams. The Mean Green scored two special teams touchdowns in a 45-21 loss to Georgia earlier this year, one on a kickoff return and the other on a blocked punt. Tulane had three kicks blocked in a 52-17 loss to Syracuse and allowed an 88-yard punt return by ULM last Saturday.
“They are beginning to buy in on the special teams,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “We’re playing a lot of young kids, and earlier in the year they didn’t know the importance of special teams until they gave up play after play.”
Cornerback Lorenzo Doss has played just 18 games but is already making his way into the Tulane record books.
The New Orleans native intercepted two passes on Saturday, and ran one back for a 59-yard touchdown. He now has four interceptions on the season and nine in his career, moving him into 10th place all-time in the Green Wave career interception totals.
He is tied with Jimmy Glisson, Joe Bullard, David Lee and Tra Boger and is the fastest Green Wave player to nab nine picks in school history.
“He can do that. As you know, he’s a sophomore, but he can be that big-play guy,” Johnson said. “As a true freshman, he had five picks, and he may have 10 this year, because he’s a ball hog. Sometimes he gambles, which makes me mad, but he’s so good that he can gamble. I hope I can keep him for four years, because this kid has a bright future ahead of him.”
Tulane’s defensive line gobbled up the opposing rushing attack for the second consecutive week, allowing North Texas to produce just 34 yards on 20 carries (1.7 yards per rush).
In its 31-14 victory over Louisiana-Monroe last week, Tulane’s front was equally dominant, surrendering only 26 yards on 24 attempts. It’s a far cry from last season’s porous run defense which was pounded for an average of 222 yards per game on the ground (5.1 per carry).
“It’s hard when we can’t run the ball very well,” North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson said. “They’re stacking the box and sometimes it just feels like we’re just beating our heads against the wall.”
Defensive tackle Freddie Booth-Lloyd, a highly sought-after prospect from Cocoa, Fla., who committed to Tulane on Friday, said he was 85 percent certain he would end up with the Green Wave on Saturday.
Lloyd has received recruiting interest though no offers from LSU, Alabama and Florida State, in addition to firm offers from Michigan State, Georgia Tech and Iowa State.
Before this summer, Booth-Lloyd said the only thing he knew about Tulane was that it was in New Orleans, and Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte had played there. But after visiting the campus on a 15-school tour during the summer, he became much more interested.
“I had the feeling that it was like home,” he said. “The coaching staff was very good and treated me like family.”
He played solely at offensive guard as a sophomore and junior but is starting at defensive tackle this season for Cocoa, where he said he had 35 tackles, six sacks and an 82-yard interception return for a touchdown through five games. Tulane recruited him as a defensive tackle.
“I really like everything about playing defense,” he said. “There’s so much joy in hitting quarterbacks.”
Booth-Lloyd is the 17th commitment for Tulane for the 2014 class and the fourth from Florida.
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