On paper, East Carolina (4-1) will be Tulane’s toughest opponent this year. They returned 18 starters from an 8-5 bowl team, including 1,000-yard rusher Vintavious Cooper, 3,000-yard passer Shane Carden and 1,000-yard receiver Justin Hardy. ECU clobbered North Carolina 55-31 and hung with Virginia Tech all the way before losing 15-10. Still, the Pirates needed a fourth-quarter touchdown to get past Middle Tennessee 24-17 on Saturday, so they’re no juggernaut. The key for Tulane, which is riding the emotional wave of a last-second homecoming victory against North Texas, will be to slow down Carden, who has completed an astounding 73.4 percent of his passes while averaging 307.4 yards. The Pirates have struggled on the ground, getting 3.3 yards per carry while Vintavious Cooper (372 yards) is well off his 1,000-yard pace of a year ago. ECU is stingy against the run, allowing 2.6 yards per carry, and shaky against the pass, allowing nearly 300 yards per game.
Despite struggling offensively, Tulane beat North Texas because it has developed a big-time defense. There was nothing fluky about the way the Green Wave shut down the Mean Green, which managed only three first downs in the first half and had a hard time getting past the line of scrimmage on running plays. LSU transfer tackle Chris Davenport closed down the middle, and former Arkansas contributor Tyler Gilbert made plays off the edge. Linebackers Derrick Strozier, Nico Marley and Zach Davis hardly missed a tackle. Tulane’s undersized defense can play with any team that does not overpower it. The problem for the Wave is generating consistent offense behind a leaky offensive line. Quarterback Nick Montana was sacked five times, and Tulane’s longest gain in 67 plays against North Texas was 19 yards. That’s not good enough.
How good is sophomore cornerback Lorenzo Doss? Coach Curtis Johnson said he was worried about losing him to the NFL early, something that doesn’t happen at Tulane. Doss picked off two passes, giving him four interceptions for the year and nine in his 18-game career. He returned the second one 59 yards for a touchdown as the Wave went ahead 21-7 in the third quarter. He has excellent instincts and hands.
“I was just running around. I didn’t know what to do. I’ve never won a game like this before.”
Running back Orleans Darkwa on his celebration after Cairo Santos’ game-winning field goal as time ran out.
KEEP AN EYE ON
After 10 straight losing seasons, Tulane (4-2) not only has a chance to break that streak, it has a real opportunity to win the Western division of Conference USA. The Green Wave is 2-0 against the division, and after East Carolina, the next four opponents are a combined 6-16. The season finale at Rice, also 2-0 in the league, could determine the West representative in the C-USA championship game.
Tulane is 4-2 for the first time since its perfect season in 1998. … Tulane has held back-to-back opponents (ULM and North Texas) below 50 yards rushing. … Santos’ 27-yard field goal as time expired was the first game-winning field goal of his career. … The Green Wave has shut out three of its six opponents in the first half, with North Texas joining Jackson State and ULM. Before this season, the last team Tulane blanked in the first half was ULM on Sept. 20, 2008. ... The Wave has forced a nation’s best 18 turnovers.