Nose tackle Chris Davenport’s absence was not the primary reason Tulane lost to FAU last Saturday. Interceptions on four consecutive series at the start of the second half took care of that.
His return, though, could be critical for the Green Wave (6-3, 4-1 Conference USA) against UTSA this Saturday. Davenport was officially cleared to play Thursday after sitting out a week with a sprained ankle.
The Roadrunners (4-5, 3-2) have averaged 266 yards on the ground in their last three games. With Davenport (6-feet-4, 334 pounds) occupying the middle, Tulane held three consecutive opponents below 100 rushing yards earlier this season.
FAU rushed for 194 yards while Davenport watched from the sideline.
“He’s going to help us,” defensive line coach/co-defensive coordinator Jon Sumrall said. “He takes up a lot of space, he plays physical and he’s just a big guy who’s hard to move. We’re excited about having him back.”
Thursday’s practice was the litmus test for the ankle, which held up on a cold, windy day at Turchin Stadium.
“He looked good today moving around,” Sumrall said. “He felt comfortable. We didn’t overdo it. The question was a strength issue, and it’s plenty strong enough. It’s just a matter of him pushing through (pain) and being a tough guy.”
Davenport’s numbers (17 tackles) don’t reveal how effective he has been in his first significant playing time of his career as a graduate student transfer from LSU. More telling: Tulane allowed 222.9 rushing yards per game in 2012 and has cut down that figure to 125.7.
“He’s so big and dominant,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “I thank LSU every day for letting us have him because he means the world to us.”
Nick Montana will start at quarterback for Tulane for the second consecutive week after missing two games with a separated throwing shoulder. He hopes to avoid a repeat of his struggles at FAU, where he threw interceptions on his first three series of the second half and finished 7 of 22 for 71 yards with zero touchdowns.
He dismissed the idea his poor performance came because of rust or his shoulder not being ready.
“It was none of those things,” he said. “I missed a couple throws and was late on a couple of them. I’ve been working in practice on getting the ball out on time and getting the ball where it needs to be.”
He also will have to manage pain for the foreseeable future. Although his shoulder is fit enough for him to play, it is not 100-percent healthy.
“It’s sore,” he said. “My brother (Nate Montana) had the same thing, and he said it’s going to hurt for a while. I just have to get used to it. But I’m feeling a lot better. Everything feels more smooth this week, and the ball’s coming out better. I’m more in synch with the offense.”
His sore shoulder affects his feet, too.
Worried about taking another hit, he cannot be as aggressive when he runs. He was injured against North Texas on Oct. 5 on a pivotal scramble as Tulane drove for a winning field goal in the final minutes.
“I have to be smarter and slide and not play for a couple extra yards,” Montana said. “If I’m not running, I’ve got to get through my progressions and just throw it away. Sometimes if the play doesn’t work, you’ve got to live with it and not try to extend it.”
Montana has gone 32 of 70 for 268 yards in his last three starts. Healthy early in the year, he threw for 327 yards against South Alabama on Sept. 7 and for more than 200 yards against Louisiana Tech and Syracuse in the next two games.
If he recaptures that form, it will come at the perfect time. Tulane can clinch Conference USA West by winning its last three games.
“Not a lot of teams can say they control their own destiny,” Montana said. “If we play the way we should, we should be fine.”
It would be easy for defensive tackle Julius Warmsley to point his finger at the quarterbacks after Tulane’s loss to FAU. Instead, he pointed it at himself and the rest of the defense for allowing four plays of more than 20 yards in the second half after giving up only 88 yards total in the first half.
“We lost the game ourselves,” Warmsley said. “We gave them the game. We didn’t do our jobs. We literally did not play up to our standards, and that’s disgusting.”
Warmsley howled at the idea the Green Wave lost some hunger after becoming bowl eligible after eight games. He said it was simply a matter of guys getting out of their gaps and not playing as a unit for the first time since the Syracuse game in September.
“If we make all the gimme plays, we’ll win (against UTSA),” he said. “FAU was a good team, but we shouldn’t have lost.”
Tulane kicker Cairo Santos is one of 10 finalists for the 2013 Senior Class Award.
To be eligible, a player needs to be a senior with notable achievements in four areas — community, classroom, character and competition. Fans can vote for one of the candidates until Dec. 16 at seniorCLASSaward.com. Those votes will be combined media and head coaches’ votes to determine a winner, which will be announced during the bowl season.
Santos, the 2012 Lou Groza Award winner, has hit 13 of 17 field goals with walk-off game-winners against North Texas and East Carolina. His long of 56 yards is tied for the best in college football this season.
Devin Boutte, Tulane’s primary punt returner, has been ruled out of the UTSA game as he recovers from a concussion he sustained against FAU. Johnson said starting free safety Darion Monroe would replace him, with redshirt freshman Kedrick Banks next in line. Boutte was averaging only 2.5 yards on 15 returns.
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