Tulane notebook: Second chance not enough

Given a huge reprieve on an incredibly frustrating afternoon, Tulane still could not quite take advantage of it.

After the replay official overruled a would-be game-winning interception for South Alabama on Saturday at the Superdome, the Green Wave (1-1) scored a touchdown to pull within 41-39 at the 1:19 mark and needed a 2-point conversion to send the game into overtime.

The play they tried did not even come close.

With the ball on the left hashmark, quarterback Nick Montana took a shotgun snap, rolled to his right and looked for receiver Ryan Grant, who had lined up wide to that side. Montana kept drifting, and when he was corralled near the South Alabama sideline, he threw a hopeless pass that was picked off well short of the goal line.

Ball game. After recovering an onside kick, South Alabama (1-1) took two knees to run out the clock.

“I thought Montana had him (Grant) early,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “It’s one of those plays where you try to put it on him right now. It’s funny — we ran it twice the other day, and he threw it to Grant for the touchdown in practice. He just didn’t pull the trigger this time.”

Montana, who threw for 327 yards and three scores in his second start at Tulane, blamed himself rather than second-guessing the play.

“It was my fault,” he said. “I was trying to extend it. I should have just thrown it right off the bat.”

Grant, who had a career-best 14 catches for 187 yards, said he was not sure whether he was open or not but said he would have liked the opportunity to make a play before the protection broke down.

“I thought it was a great play call,” center Zach Morgan said. “It’s frustrating to come down to the end like that. We need to get back to work and work on every single little thing that has to do with football.”

Special teams snafu

Despite falling behind 28-7 in the first half, Tulane appeared to have taken control when it rallied to go ahead 33-31 in the third quarter and regained the ball. Instead, The Wave went backward on its next series before South Alabama blocked a Peter Picerelli punt and recovered it for a touchdown.

The Jaguars led the rest of the way.

Johnson blamed true freshman long snapper Mike Lizanich rather than Picerelli, a sophomore.

“The snapper kind of snapped it a little bit and then snapped it again,” Johnson said. “He got freshman jitters. You can’t start the snap and then stop. If they wouldn’t have blocked it, it would have been a penalty anyway. If he had snapped it (right away), we would have been fine.”

It was the first blocked punt Tulane allowed in Johnson’s tenure, although Picerelli dropped a snap against Ole Miss last season and never got off a punt.

Unfortunate prescience

Johnson tried to warn his players that South Alabama, coming off a disappointing season-opening home loss to FCS member Southern Utah at home, would be a tough opponent.

“It’s going to be their best game all year,” he said Tuesday at his weekly media luncheon. “They’re going to be flying around, and they’re going to be fired up. We just need to withstand the initial assault and just continue to play our game.”

South Alabama, which snapped a seven-game losing streak dating to last season, gained 245 yards and scored three touchdowns in the first quarter on its way to a 28-7 lead.

Before facing Tulane, the Jaguars had not scored more than 31 points in regulation since joining the FBS in 2012. Their 41-point total was their most since they scored 52 against Kentucky Wesleyan as an FCS member in 2010, the second year of the program’s existence.

This and that

Tulane’s Orleans Darkwa scored his 31st touchdown with a 2-yard run in the third quarter, moving into a tie for second place on the school’s all-time touchdown list with Bill Banker, who played from 1927-29. Matt Forte is first with 39. … Tulane junior safety Sam Scofield made a career-high 15 tackles, three more than his previous high. … Senior linebacker Dominique Robertson had a personal-best 11 tackles and his first career interception. … South Alabama center Joseph Scelfo, the son of former Tulane coach Chris Scelfo, entered at center in the third quarter. Chris Scelfo’s tenure lasted from 1999 to 2006. … The attendance of 19,414 was lower than the 20,992 for the opener against Jackson State.