For most of the first half against East Carolina, Tulane couldn’t block, pitch, tackle, cover or put pressure on the quarterback.
This is how a team loses 24 points behind in less than two minutes after the start of the second quarter – a recurring theme in a season that has deteriorated rapidly. The Green Wave fought back to get closer to eight points in the third quarter, but quickly fell out of action again, losing 52-29 to the Pirates in a dismal American Athletic Conference opener on Saturday. at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina.
East Carolina (3-2, 1-0 AAC) rushed for 312 yards, passed for another 310, and knocked out quarterback Michael Pratt three times, winning his third straight for the first time since 2014 while handing over Tulane (1-4, 0-1) his third consecutive defeat.
“We played horrendously on offense and defense and dug a big old hole,” said coach Willie Fritz. “Our margin of error is very low and we have to play well. If we don’t play well, we have a hard time winning games. “
How bad were the starts? On four occasions against FBS opponents, Tulane trailed Oklahoma 37-14 at halftime, Ole Miss 40-14 in the second quarter, UAB 21-0 in the second quarter and now East Carolina 31-7 at the break.
“It’s very frustrating,” said linebacker Dorian Williams. “I feel like we got the right calls. We have to buckle, tackle and stay in our gap and not be too greedy.
Fritz fired former defensive coordinator Jack Curtis at the end of 2020 in part because The Wave gave up huge plays on multiple occasions on the third and fourth downs despite both Patrick Johnson and Cameron Sample having linemen defense related to the NFL. With this duo gone, the problems have grown with every down this season.
East Carolina’s yards came in big chunks. Running back Keaton Mitchell broke a tackle in the backfield and ran 62 yards in the second play of the scrum, setting the tone for his 222-yard performance on 15 carries.
The wave forced a field goal on that drive, but quarterback Holton Ahlers climbed into the middle for an easy 17-yard score the next time the Pirates got the ball. Mitchell ran unscathed for a 68-yard touchdown a series later. Ahlers then connected with wide receiver Tyler Snead for a 53-yard touchdown in the fourth and -2 as East Carolina took a 24-0 lead at 13:18 of the second quarter.
The blows continued to flow. Wideout Audie Omotosho beat safety Rudy Dyson and first-year cornerback Jadon Canady for 41 yards on third and 13 just before halftime, setting up another touchdown. The Pirates added gains of 23, 24, 28 and 30 in the second half against a defense that had run out of answers.
Twice the wave jumped offside in the fourth and short, giving the Pirates the first downs.
“We need to be more disciplined in defense,” said Williams. “It’s just a matter of letting you know how far you’ve traveled. On the fourth and shortest they are still going to count you, so you have to be careful. “
Fritz insisted that the blackouts were not about lack of preparation.
“We are looking at it, looking at it, looking at it and looking at it,” he said. “Perhaps it is too much, paralysis by overanalysis. We review these games over and over again, but in the heat of the moment we have to go out and run.
Ahlers scored 21 of 32 for 288 yards. Freshman Mason Garcia came in and immediately threw his only pass for a touchdown as Tulane failed to put the quarterbacks uncomfortable, registering just two sacks.
“No. 7 (Johnson) and 5 (Sample) are playing in the NFL right now,” Fritz said. “We have to find some guys who can rush the passer.”
The offense had its own problems. Pratt (22 of 36 for 268 yards) showed his tenacity, rushing for two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion, but he passed several receivers, including on two of his interceptions. He also strived for a short win with no downtime at the end of the first half, which cost Tulane a field goal, and kept the ball on the third and 9 with defenders all around him in the first quarter, forcing a punt.
“Everything we do is self-inflicted,” said running back Cameron Carroll, who interrupted a 40-yard gain early in the third quarter. “If we focus and lock in on each other and what we’re supposed to do with our responsibility, that will help us a lot. “
Surpassed 376-137 in the first half, Tulane gave themselves a shot in the third quarter with back-to-back touchdowns and 2-point conversions to reduce the deficit to 31-23.
The reprieve was brief. East Carolina has never faced a third down in their next streak, advancing 75 yards in 10 games for a touchdown with 13:33 left, even overcoming a first and 25 situation after an offensive pass interference penalty. .
Pratt’s second and third interceptions helped the Pirates seal him. After failing to train due to an unspecified arm injury before the wave played UAB, he did his normal reps on Wednesday and Thursday this week.
“I’m sure he would love to get a bunch of those balls back, but I don’t think (an injury) is the problem,” said Fritz. “It seemed to me that he had a good zipper on the ball. He would have liked to play better, just as I would have liked to have had a better coach.