Early defensive success has Wave confident
For two years, Tulane coach Curtis Johnson has said winning on the road starts with stopping the run.
During the Green Wave’s 24-15 win at Louisiana Tech last Thursday, his point proved to be prescient.
For the first time in his brief tenure at TU, the line of scrimmage belonged to Tulane’s defensive line, and almost everything else was gobbled up by its linebackers as Tulane (2-1) snapped an 11-game road losing streak.
Outside of a 47-yard gain on Louisiana Tech’s opening drive, Tulane (2-1) allowed just 2.5 yards per carry in the Bulldogs’ next 30 attempts and aims to repeat the effort Saturday at 11:30 a.m. in Syracuse’s Carrier Dome.
“Those guys changed the whole game,” cornerback Lorenzo Doss said. “It got to a point where I knew they weren’t going to have time to do anything and then we could play with a ton of freedom, because the guys up front were just doing it all by themselves.
“If we can do that again this week, it will go a long way toward getting us where we need to be.”
It’s a far cry from what Doss experienced last year, when Tulane surrendered 5.1 yards per carry and 38 points per game. And it’s a massive improvement from the Green Wave’s 41-39 loss to South Alabama on Sept. 7, when the Jaguars piled up 328 yards in the first half.
Since then, Tulane’s defense has been stoic, allowing just 426 yards in its past six quarters. While players and coaches have pointed to intangibles like focus and hustle, a few personnel adjustments have re-shaped the front seven.
The addition of former LSU graduate Jeremy Peeples to the starting lineup added size at defensive end, and senior linebacker Zach Davis recorded eight tackles upon returning from a two-game suspension.
But moving senior Julius Warmsley from defensive end to defensive tackle and adding his quickness to the middle — alongside beefy 6-foot-4, 334-pound tackle Chris Davenport — truly transformed Tulane’s options up front. Warmsley tallied three tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble last week.
“Julius is amazingly dynamic for us as a tackle,” Peeples said. “At end, he has good speed, but at tackle he’s just ferocious. He’s much faster than most tackles, and he still has size. It’s a ridiculous matchup for most offensive linemen.”
Warmsley warns the challenge will be significantly different against Syracuse (1-2) and its bulky interior linemen. The addition of fleet-footed new quarterback Terrel Hunt, who came off of the bench to complete 15 of 18 passes and three touchdowns during last week’s 54-0 win over Wagner, makes the Orange’s offensive even more unpredictable.
“We’ve been doing things right recently, but this week we have to change our technique a bit because these guys aren’t small, quick linemen,” Warmsley said. “These guys are going to try to run downhill and rather than trying to knife through every play like we did against Tech, it’s going to be about clogging holes and staying true to our gaps. We’ve been playing better, but you’re only as good as your last game.”
That’s a lesson several Tulane seniors said they’ve been trying to impart this week, one that fell on deaf ears after the season-opening win against Jackson State. In fact, Tulane has failed to follow a win with another win in its past 11 tries.
Tulane has not tallied consecutive victories since Oct. 3, 2009, and hasn’t won two straight road games since Nov. 14, 1998.
“We know we haven’t earned anything yet,” senior running back Orleans Darkwa said. “We won that first game this year, and we came out like we couldn’t lose the next week. Then, we lost. We haven’t been good enough to just show up and win, and we definitely won’t do that this week. ...
“This team’s goal is to go to a bowl game, and we still have a long way to get there. We won two games last year, and it was a bad season, so we are going to need to get way more than two for this to be the season we think it can be.”