No, the sky won’t fall if it fails, but to say that Tulane’s (2-6, 1-4 American Athletic Conference) Homecoming showdown with Connecticut (4-5, 2-3 AAC) Saturday is a must-win would put it lightly.
Two seasons removed from a Bowl bid, head coach Curtis Johnson’s team faces elimination from postseason eligibility. The squad will face a UConn team dramatically improved from last season, when the Wave defeated the Huskies in a 12-3 slugfest at Yulman Stadium.
Four weeks ago, the Green Wave had a .500 record, but lost its next four games by a margin of 163-44, a dismal average losing margin of 29.75 points per game. Tulane’s previous four opponents have a combined record of 29-2, including losses to No. 16 Memphis and No. 24 Houston, but the final four opponents records combine for 11-22.
It was no surprise the Wave struggled in its previous four contests, but besides two-and-a-half competitive quarters against Memphis last week, the severity in which Johnson’s club lost gives no assurance it can compete against a UConn team tougher than the 1-5 team it faced last season.
Not only will UConn pose a tough challenge for the Wave Saturday, but Johnson understands that Tulane will have to roll through the last four games of the season to compete in the post season.
“Early in the season, we won two in a row, and now we have to go try and win four in a row,” Johnson said. “It’s hard, but life’s hard. We ran into a juggernaut of a schedule, and it’s still a tough schedule. We think we are going to go out there and play well, and there’s never a team that we don’t think we are going to beat.”
UConn is no slouch, as its defense held No. 22 ranked Missouri to just three field goals in week three, nearly pulling off the upset. Now, the Huskies defense ranks No. 30 in the nation in points allowed, giving up 21.1 points per game.
Tulane’s offense has had trouble moving the ball into scoring position, as it’s mustered only 18 trips to the red-zone all season. Though the Green Wave has converted on an efficient 16 of those trips, the sheer lack of easy scoring opportunities and consistent offensive rhythm has given opponents more chances to score by simply having more time on the field to do so. Opponents have converted on nearly half of its third downs, 46 percent to the Wave’s 34.
Tulane will need its offense to run smoothly for a chance to compete with this stifling Huskies defense.
As for who will suit up under center this weekend, redshirt sophomore quarterback Tanner Lee has yet to be cleared, as he recovers from a concussion, which could mean more of senior redshirt Jordy Joseph, who tallied 131 yards off of 10-24 passing in his first career start last weekend against the then No. 16 Memphis Tigers.
“If Tanner [Lee] plays, it gives us the best chance of winning the football game,” Johnson said. “There’s no guarantee of winning, but I think he does the best job of knowing what to do.”