It’s become a Tulane tradition. And the kind the Green Wave doesn’t need.
Go into a winnable early season game with lots of big implications for a success-starved program, and come up short.
It happened again in Saturday’s 41-39 loss to South Alabama.
Instead of being 2-0 for the first time in 11 years, one-third of the way toward the bowl eligibility it so desperately craves, Tulane is 1-1 and heading away from home for a month – three road games starting with a short-week trip to Louisiana Tech on Thursday and having to get over the fact that a team from a program that’s been around 120 years lost to one that’s been playing football for only five years, with just one previous victory against a FBS team, and that last week had lost at home to Southern Utah.
South Alabama may not have played like it Saturday, but the Jaguars were probably the worst FBS team Tulane plays this season, and that takes in a group that is a collective 6-12 after Saturday.
So much for the early buzz that this was going to be Tulane’s turnaround season.
Instead, one wonders how many of an announced crowd of 19,414, which had thinned considerably at the end despite the game going to the wire, will return when the Wave next plays in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Oct. 5 against North Texas.
“I’m hurting right now,” said fifth-year senior receiver Ryan Grant, who’s certainly seen his share of disappointing days with the Wave. “All of us are pretty hurt, or we should be.”
To be sure, this wasn’t like the Tulane egg-layers of the past few years.
Like the 2008 debacle against Army when a 2-2 Tulane team was humiliated 44-13 by the 21-point underdog Cadets.
Or the 2009 home game against Marshall when the Wave, also 2-2 then, was beaten 31-10.
Or 2-2 coming off beating Rutgers on the road in 2010 and losing to Army 41-23.
Or even 2011 when the Wave was 2-1 had just routed Alabama-Birmingham 49-10, and lost at Duke 48-27, the first of 10 straight losses to end the season, the last six of which Bob Toledo wasn’t around to see because he had resigned.
No, even though this one started the way of those before — Tulane giving up 245 yards in the first quarter and trailing 28-7 a minute into the second — the Wave fought back, taking a 33-31 lead late in the third period.
However, the next four possessions ended with a blocked punt for a South Alabama touchdown, three plays for minus-1 yard, a series that started 26 yards behind where it started, and an interception on the first play of the next one.
But Nick Montana took the team on an 82-yard touchdown drive, getting a reprieve when an interception at the 10 was overturned.
And on the two-point conversion attempt that would have tied it and probably meant overtime, Montana rolled right and, evoking memories of another Montana, kept looking, looking, looking until under pressure he had to throw up a weak attempt that was easily intercepted.
“I felt like the ball should have been out of the quarterback’s hands,” said Grant, who had 14 receptions for 187 yards, the last of which brought the Wave to within two.
But it’s too easy to lay the blame on Montana, who was 29-for-47 for 327 yards and three touchdowns despite taking a pounding thanks to atrocious protection, especially in the second half.
The defense looked ill-prepared in the first half, giving up 76 rushing yards and two touchdowns alone by quarterback Ross Metheny, who is supposed to be South Alabama’s passing quarterback.
The running game netted only 45 yards, evoking memories of last year when it was next-to-last in the nation with 39.6 per game.
There were 85 yards in penalties. And the blocked punt, which Wave Coach Curtis Johnson blamed on freshman snapper Mike Lizanich’s double-clutching, capped a poor special teams day with the exception of a ever-reliable Cairo Santos.
“We started slow, and we’re not good enough to play from behind like that,” Johnson said. “We didn’t do things as well as could have.”
No, they didn’t.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean things are headed downhill.
Given the schedule ahead, there’s not a game that’s not winnable.
But given Saturday’s performance, there’s not one that’s not losable either.
“Today was disappointing,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to play better.
“I think we will.”
Time will tell.