Oct. 13, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - Senior quarterback Ryan Griffin connected with sophomore running back Rob Kelley with 35 seconds remaining as the Tulane University football team rallied to defeat Conference USA foe SMU, 27-26, on Saturday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Green Wave appeared to be in good shape at halftime as Tulane went into the locker room on top 20-6. The Mustangs, however, scored 20 unanswered points and held the home team to just 41 yards of total offense over the next 28:38. Down by six with 1:22 left to go, Griffin threw incomplete on the first two plays of what proved to be Tulane's final offensive series but found sophomore receiver Xavier Rush for completions of 24 and 28 yards to set up Kelley's touchdown.
The win was the first of the year for Tulane and new head coach Curtis Johnson as the Green Wave improved to 1-5 on the year and evened their C-USA record at 1-1. SMU, meanwhile, fell to 2-4 overall and 1-1 in league play.
"This has been fantastic," Johnson said. "After all of the adversity they went through and to come back and not to quit was amazing. That has been one of the things that hasn't happened in under our new staff. To come back against a great team like this whose running back is a monster and whose coach is something else, this one was special for the first win.
"Maybe I'll get fifteen minutes of sleep now. It was just one thing after another. I couldn't sleep. It's a big relief. The main thing is I'm just happy for the guys in the locker room."
Playing for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury at Tulsa on Sept. 8, Griffin threw for a season-high 302 yards and three touchdowns after completing 17-of-32 passes. Kelley was his favorite target on the day as the native New Orleanian posted 64 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns on four catches. Rush was second on the team with 55 receiving yards on a trio of receptions.
Junior place kicker Cairo Santos remained perfect on the season with field goals of 44 and 35 yards, and accounted for the winning point with his PAT following Griffin's touchdown pass to Kelley. For the year, Santos is now 8-for-8, including a 6-for-6 showing from 40-plus yards.
The Green Wave defense gave up 471 yards - including 177 rushing yards by Preseason C-USA Offensive Player of the Year Zach Line - but held the Mustangs to five field goal attempts and just a pair of touchdowns. That, in addition to a field goal block by junior defensive end Julius Warmsley, kept Tulane in the game late.
Freshman safety Darion Monroe led Tulane with a career-high 13 tackles (10 solo, 3 assists) while senior linebacker Darryl Farley had seven (3 solo, 4 assists) and the trio of junior linebacker Dominique Robertson (5 solo, 1 assist), senior defensive end Austen Jacks (3 solo, 3 assists) and freshman cornerback Jordan Batiste (3 solo, 3 assists) added six each. Batiste led an eight pass break-up effort with three deflections, Jacks added a pair of sacks and sophomore linebacker Matthew Bailey tallied the team's lone turnover with an interception.
"It was one of those break on the ball, make plays days," Johnson said of his defense. "I thought the front played well. The back came to make some crucial stops in the secondary. Jordan Batiste, they couldn't complete a ball on him. ([Lorenzo) Doss settled down. I thought they were a very opportunistic defense. They played very well."
Tulane got off to a good start as the defense forced a three-and-out to open the game and the offense followed with a four-play, 63-yard drive which Griffin capped with his first touchdown strike to Kelley to stake the Green Wave to a 7-0 advantage. SMU got down to the Tulane five-yard line before settling for a 27-yard Chase Hover field goal on the next drive and Santos got the trey back with a 44-yard boot with 22 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The Mustangs appeared to tie the game early in the second when Line plunged in from one yard out, but replay showed he was down before crossing the goal line and SMU settled for a 22-yard Hover kick. SMU had a chance to get even closer on its next drive, but Warmsley blocked Hover's 23-yard effort for his second swat in as many weeks. Tulane made the missed opportunity hurt on the ensuing drive when Griffin found redshirt-freshman receiver Marc Edwards wide open down the middle for a 79-yard touchdown to make it 20-6.
After the halftime break, however, the Green Wave offense went stagnant and picked up just two first downs for the bulk of the second half while going three-and-out five times. Tulane had a chance to pad its lead following Bailey's pick as sophomore running back Danté Butler broke free for a 13-yard run and Griffin found junior wideout Ryan Grant for a 28-yard gain to set up first-and-10 from the SMU 10. Butler, however, fumbled on the next play and momentum quickly swung in the Mustangs' favor.
Following the turnover, SMU marched 52 yards on nine plays over the next 3:37 and Hover made it an 11-point affair with a 52-yard field goal with 3:42 left to play in the third quarter. Mustangs quarterback Garrett Gilbert found Jeremy Johnson for a two-yard touchdown strike on their next possession and Darius Joseph for a seven-yard score the next time out to give SMU its first lead of the day at 23-20 with 9:11 to play.
SMU had a chance to potentially put the game away after another three-and-out performance by the Green Wave and got down to the Tulane two on a three-yard Line run on third down. The Green Wave called a timeout to conserve some time, and rather than try for the endzone, SMU head coach June Jones opted for a 19-yard field goal which Hover converted to give his team a 26-20 lead and set up Tulane's game-winning drive.
"We talked about (going for the touchdown), but we felt our defense had played really well in the second half and Tulane hadn't really done anything so we wanted them to have to score a touchdown," Jones said. "Their field goal kicker is 100 percent outside of 40 yards. That was the deciding factor right there. We decided forcing them to score a touchdown gave us the best chance."
Line accounted for the bulk of SMU's offense, adding three receptions for 27 yards to his rushing total. Gilbert finished the day 25-of-51 for 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and Jeremy Johnson led the receiving corps with 11 catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Randall Joyner paced the Mustangs' defense with seven tackles (6 solo, 1 assist) while chipping in with a tackle for loss, one pass break-up and a forced fumble. Margus Hunt tallied SMU's lone sack and Ja'Gared Davis had two of the team's five pass break-ups.
Tulane returns to action on Saturday, Oct. 20, when they the Green Wave travel to West Texas to take on C-USA foe UTEP at the Sun Bowl. Kickoff for that game is slated for 7 p.m. The Wave's next home game is scheduled for Oct. 27 against UAB. Tickets to that game and future Green Wave events are available through the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office. The Ticket Office is located on the first floor of the Wilson Center on Ben Weiner Drive, and tickets can be purchased in person, over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com.