In many ways, Thursday’s 34-7 season-opening win over Jackson State was perfect for Tulane coach Curtis Johnson, even if the performance was not flawless.
On one hand, the Green Wave (1-0) played well enough to win handily in front of its home crowd while playing a litany of reserves. It also planted the seeds of a winning mentality Johnson is trying to instill in a program that has won just 11 times in the past four seasons.
On the flip side, Tulane was far from flawless. Quarterback Nick Montana was just 6-of-14 passing, the Green Wave averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and was out-gained 356-308 despite physically overmatching Jackson State.
While Johnson found it frustrating to watch at times, he treated the sloppiness as a gift when the Green Wave re-took the practice field Sunday morning to begin preparing for it’s upcoming contest against South Alabama at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“This is a perfect situation, because it’s good to be 1-0, and this is a program that has to learn how to handle winning,” Johnson said. “At the same time, there’s enough on the film to say, ‘Golly, I can’t believe we did this.’ And that’s what we spent the day talking about because we have to be better. They know it and we know it, so we were all over them (Sunday).”
Johnson said he’s glad to not be in the position of Jaguars coach Joey Jones, who watched South Alabama (0-1) fall to FCS opponent Southern Utah 22-21 in its season opener. But after getting the weekend to break down the film, Johnson saw some particularly alarming areas in need of improvement.
Tulane’s lack of a consistent pass rush stood out: The Green Wave recorded only one sack and surrendered 244 yards in the air.
“To me it was mind-blowing that we didn’t get near their quarterback with just our front four guys,” Johnson said. “I expected more from that group.”
Senior defensive end Julius Warmsley echoed his coach’s disappointment.
“It’s on us as a line to be able to work and be better when we get back out there,” Warmsley said.” It was our fault. He is totally right.”
Peeples joins his people
An agonizing wait finally ended for defensive end Jeremy Peeples on Friday.
After missing the entire preseason camp because of a compliance issue, the LSU graduate transfer made his first appearance with the Green Wave on Sunday.
It felt natural because I was working out on my own and I was able to learn the plays mentally, so I feel like I was able to get acclimated pretty well,” Peeples said. “The last month was tough. First I had to get accepted into my graduate program, and then I had to wait another week because I need the NCAA to say I could play. So when it got through, I was very excited.”
Peeples spent four seasons as a walk-on at LSU, appearing in three games. The 6-foot-4, 242-pounder is expected to help with depth along the defensive line and could take the field as soon as this weekend against South Alabama.
His addition to the roster is the latest in an offseason marked by transfers. Five different positions on Tulane’s two-deep chart are nonfreshman newcomers, including Montana, starting defensive tackle Chris Davenport, and two reserves, cornerback Taurean Nixon and defensive end Tyler Gilbert.
“Geting Peeples is extremely helpful,” Warmsley said. “He’s big. He’s fast. He’s strong. Once he gets through learning everything, he’s going to be a real asset for this team and this line.”
Because of Tulane’s lopsided lead on Jackson State, Johnson was able to play nearly his entire roster in the season opener. In all, 61 Green Wave players took the field, including four walk-ons and 13 freshmen.
Johnson expects that number to drop slightly against the Jaguars this weekend and fall even further when Tulane opens Conference USA play at Louisiana Tech on Sept. 12.
“I still don’t know who the real players are for us yet,” Johnson said. “And if I would have done a traditional depth chart, there were a couple of kids like Parry Nickerson, Jarrod Franklin, Nico Marley and Eric Thomas who I may not have seen much of but are real players. I have to figure out what package everyone belongs in. I still think we’re going to play a lot of guys, because I want to see them in game situations, but I’d expect to cut down just a little bit.”