Davenport more effective; running game needs work
“I made things muddy in the middle so the guys could make plays behind me. Hopefully I’ll have a better outcome this week.” Chris davenport, Tulane defensive tackle
LSU transfer Chris Davenport had zero tackles or assists in Tulane’s season opener Thursday. Meanwhile, the Green Wave rushed for 158 yards, more than in any game last year.
Upon further review, those were the two most misleading stats of the Wave’s 34-7 win over Jackson State.
Coach Curtis Johnson liked what he saw on video from Davenport, a 6-foot-4, 334-pound defensive tackle from Mansfield who played sparingly in four years at LSU after being one of the most highly sought recruits in the nation.
“I walked away from it thinking (Davenport) didn’t play good, but gosh, he was a force,” Johnson said. “He came off the ball a lot better than I thought. He’s going to help us, and he’ll get better. Those linebackers made an awful lot of tackles because of him.”
The running game drew less praise.
“The offensive line has to finish blocks a little bit better,” Johnson said. “The backs didn’t seize the opportunities that they could have.”
A closer examination of the numbers supports both of Johnson’s points. Tulane, which allowed 5.1 yards per carry last season, limited Jackson State to 112 yards on 48 attempts (2.3 average). The Tigers’ longest run was 15 yards, and their rushing total was only two more yards than the low for a Tulane opponent in 2012.
Davenport started at nose tackle and was double teamed on almost all 29 downs he played, preventing him from getting in the backfield the way he had in preseason practice. Still, he held his ground, something Tulane’s linemen rarely did a year ago.
“They tried to run away from him every time,” free safety Darion Monroe said. “And by them running away from him, it created plays for the linebackers on the backside when they blitzed the gap. That’s what we need him to do. The plays for him are going to come.”
Aside from a 20-yard end around by wide receiver Devin Boutte, the big plays never came for Tulane’s ground game. The Green Wave averaged 3.7 yards on 43 attempts. The running backs were slightly better, producing 139 yards on 35 attempts (4.0 average), but they anticipated much more against a lower-division opponent.
“We should have broken more tackles,” said senior Orleans Darwka, who had 13 carries for 50 yards with two touchdowns. “We could have had a lot more big plays as a group. I wasn’t as pleased as the media might have thought I was. I feel like we can do better, and CJ and the coaching staff expect better of us, too.”
Of Tulane’s four running backs with multiple attempts, only Rob Kelley (six carries, 41 yards) averaged as much as four yards. Josh Rounds rushed eight times for 23 yards. Redshirt freshman Lazedrick Thompson, a load in preseason practices, ran tentatively in his first career game, gaining 19 yards on seven carries.
“We try to tell him he’s one of the strongest players on the team,” Darkwa said. “Just put your head down, and you’re going to get three or four yards every time. It was his first time out there and he was nervous, but it will get better over time.”
Center Zach Morgan lamented a botched exchange with quarterback Nick Montana that blew up a third-and-short in the red zone and forced Tulane to settle for a field goal. He said he and Montana had received extra reps on the play in practice this week to avoid a repeat.
“We left yards out there and we left points out there,” Morgan said. “We were disappointed, but we know it will come around. Jackson State played a little bit different defense that we hadn’t seen before. Even our coaches were saying we don’t know what that is. The first short-yardage (situation), they got in a different work with everybody in the gap, and we weren’t prepared for it.”
After four years on the bench at LSU, it may have looked like Davenport was not prepared.
He, and Johnson, disagreed, particularly after the excitement of his first career start wore off.
“I made things muddy in the middle so the guys could make plays behind me,” Davenport said. “Hopefully I’ll have a better outcome this week. I found myself a little bit overexcited at the start. But by the second drive of the first quarter, I calmed down and got into a rhythm. I played a pretty good game for the most part.”
Johnson said offensive tackle Todd Jacquet would start against South Alabama after being suspended for the opener. He will play right tackle in place of Sean Donnelly, who is suspended this Saturday after starting against Jackson State. Linebacker Zach Davis will miss his second consecutive game, and cornerback Jordan Batiste will sit out the first half after missing the opener. All of the suspensions were for unspecified violations of team policy. … Johnson said defensive end Jeremy Peeples, like Davenport a graduate transfer from LSU, would play against South Alabama despite practicing for the first time on Sunday. Peeples, a walk-on at LSU, participated in three games for the Tigers on special teams last year.