Green Wave football opens new era against Tulsa

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Oliver Grigg, Print Sports Editor

Tulane football will kick off its 2014-15 season looking to win its first game as a member of the American Athletic Conference 7 p.m. Thursday against Tulsa at H.A. Chapman Stadium in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network. 

Tulane begins its third season under head coach Curtis Johnson, who is 9-16 through two seasons. The Green Wave returns a strong defense that forced 35 total turnovers during the 2013-14 season and is coming off a 7-6 record in 2013, when the team earned a berth to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 21, 2013 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Wave lost 24-21 to Louisiana-Lafayette. 

The biggest news of the off-season was Johnson’s tabbing redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Lee as the starter before redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Powell and senior quarterback Nick Montana. Lee is the first freshman quarterback to start for Tulane since the 1976 season.

“I think [Lee’s] a confident young man,” Johnson said. “He’s had success in high school and been around a lot of successful guys.”

While Lee will not have the fortune of throwing the ball to Ryan Grant, senior wide receivers Justyn Shackleford and Xavier Rush are the team’s top returners. Shackleford caught 36 passes for 419 yards and 5 scores, and Rush recorded 17 receptions for 196 yards and 1 touchdown.

Preseason All-American junior cornerback Lorenzo Doss, who claimed second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and The Walter Camp Foundation last year, returns and is the heart of Tulane’s secondary. Doss lead the Wave with 7 interceptions and finished No. 4 nationally in interceptions last season.

Senior safety Sam Scofield and junior safety Darion Monroe are also key returners in the Wave’s defensive backfield. Scofield led the team in tackles last season with 104 and recorded 9.5 stops for lost yardage. Monroe was No. 2 on the team with 90 tackles, and recorded 9 stops for lost yardage and 3.5 sacks.

Tulane’s first opponent of the year, Tulsa, is coming off a 3-9 overall season, which included a 14-7 loss against Tulane Oct. 26, 2013 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Tulsa joins Tulane in its inaugural season in The American.

Sophomore starting quarterback Dane Evans is among the team’s key offensive returners and one of its biggest offensive threats. Evans completed 84 of 195 passes for 898 yards and four touchdowns in eight games last season.

“[Tulsa’s biggest offensive threat] has to be its quarterback because he’s back for another year,” Johnson said. “Secondly, I’d say the offensive line because those are the guys that have played the most together over, and they’ll probably do what we try to do which is spread us out and run it.”

Sophomore wide receiver Keevan Lucas and junior wide receiver Keyarris Garrett are expected to pace Tulsa’s receiving corps. Garret led Tulsa with 845 yards and nine touchdowns on 67 receptions during the 2012-13, but missed most of the 2013-14 season after suffering a broken leg. Lucas led the receivers with 32 receptions for 442 yards and 1 touchdown last season.

While the running game will rely on an inexperienced trio of sophomore running backs, Tulsa’s defense returns experienced and dependable veterans. Senior defensive end Chris Hummingbird, senior defensive end Brentom Todd and junior defensive end Derrick Alexander started on the defensive line for Tulsa last season, and combined for 89 tackles, 20 tackles for lost yardage and 11 sacks. 

The defense also returns junior safety Michael Mudoh, who was the nation’s No. 4 tackler with 133 and was named as a 2014 preseason nominee to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

Thursday’s game will be the 11th meeting between the two teams. Tulsa has a 8-2 lead in the all-time series.