There isn’t one repair to make or one flaw to fix.
The mistakes wounding Tulane’s special teams’ units are widespread and varied, special teams coordinator Barry Lamb said.
Never was it more obvious than during Saturday’s 52-17 loss to Syracuse. Two blocked punts, a blocked field goal and a muffed punt return combined to squelch one red zone opportunity and allowed three of the Orange’s first-half drives to start inside the Tulane 20. All these mistakes eventually resulting in Syracuse touchdowns.
The 24-point swing was far too much for the rest of the Green Wave (2-2) to overcome, according to Lamb, who took responsibility for the multitude of miscues.
“It was a cacophony of errors,” Lamb said. “We really hurt our defense. It’s particularly bad because if one thing fails, it’s a reflection of my coaching.
“When four different things fail, I take it really personally. I just can’t abide by it. These are troubling times for our special teams, so we have to get it straightened out and corrected. That’s my job.”
The first opportunity for redemption comes at 6 p.m. Saturday (TV: ESPN3) when the Green Wave travel to Malone Stadium to face UL-Monroe (2-2) in its final nonconference regular-season game.
What Tulane won’t be able to redeem is kicker Cairo Santos’ streak of 26 consecutive converted field goals, the second-longest in NCAA history, which was snapped in the second quarter when Syracuse blocked his kick. It was the first field goal attempt to go awry for the Green Wave since 2011.
Yet it was indicative of the slip in performance the rest of the special units have suffered. The only blocked kick or punt throughout the 2012 season came on an extra point in the season opener.
The long-standing trend of botched punts, blocked kicks and surrendering long returns that transpired under previous coach Bob Toledo appeared to be a thing of the past under Lamb’s control. But the headaches this season have been unending.
Freshman deep snapper Michael Lizanich was benched during the third game of the season after his hitched release caused a blocked punt, costing Tulane the lead in a loss to South Alabama, one week before a fumbled snap set up Louisiana Tech’s first points during a Green Wave victory. Lizanich was replaced by defensive tackle Julius Warmsley and tight end Matt Marfisi, who hadn’t played the position since middle school.
But the adjustment didn’t improve the results against Syracuse, mostly because other obstacles emerged.
During Syracuse’s first block Lamb said an upback completely missed his assignment, then punter Peter Picerelli hesitated with the ball his hands, allowing Syracuse to swat the kick without even sending a typical rush package.
“They weren’t even trying to block the kick,” Lamb said.
Newly minted returner Kedrick Banks’ topped it by following a rolling punt too closely and allowing it to bounce of off his leg.
“It just seems to be one thing after the other,” Lamb said. “So we continue to work on the things that continue to get in the way of being competent. We were competent last year, and even on the verge of being good, but every year is different. There is new personnel and there are new factors, even if there are returning pieces to the puzzle. Right now, we are just not in sync and are just struggling.”
Coach Curtis Johnson said the only time he’s seen as many kicking mistakes was during his son’s Pop Warner game but insisted the Green Wave’s issues are correctable and expects to see a rapid turnaround, even if his options are limited at the snapper position and along the line.
He admitted he needed to utilize other starters in the kicking game and dedicated additional practice time to special teams’ situations early this week.
“All of the stuff with blocked kicks are hard, but we just have to do what we’re supposed to do when you get put in those situations,” cornerback Jordan Batiste said.
“If we come out and hold those guys to field goals or force turnovers every time, then we can still win that game. Everybody is looking over to those plays, but really it’s the whole team that can make up for that stuff and we need to do that if it happens again.”
Starting safety and leading tackler Sam Scofield is doubtful for Saturday’s game because of concussion symptons suffered after he ran into a teammate in last week’s loss. Scofield tallied four tackles against Syracuse, including one for a loss. He is likely to be replaced by sophomore Brandon LeBeau.
“I’m praying for a miracle,” Johnson said. “Sam has been playing tremendous.”
Tulane’s most productive running backs, senior Orleans Darkwa and junior Rob Kelley, are healing from shoulder injuries and could miss Saturday’s game.
“If you asked me today, I would say Kelley will be in and Orleans may be out this week,” Johnson said. “That’s just today, and it’s early. We have a lot of time left. When you play a physical opponent, that’s what happens.”