Nov. 3, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - It was a classic case of good news/bad news for the Tulane University football team when they walked off the field on Saturday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
On the good side, senior quarterback Ryan Griffin broke his own single-game passing record with 476 yards, junior kicker Cairo Santos followed suit in the field goal department with a record-long 57-yard boot, and the Green Wave rallied from a 21-point halftime deficit to take a second-half lead.
The bad news, however, came in the format of a season-high five turnovers, the inability to get a stop on defense late and a failed two-point conversion as Tulane dropped a 49-47 Homecoming decision to Conference USA foe Rice. With the loss, Tulane fell to 2-7 on the year and 2-3 in C-USA play. The Owls, meanwhile, won their second-straight contest to improve to 4-6 on the year and 2-4 in league action.
"You just can't overcome five turnovers," first-year Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson said. "It is so hard with an inexperienced team. Even though Ryan Griffin played great again, we just have to get off to a better start and convert on third downs. But the big difference was our turnovers. And their quarterback was outstanding on the other side."
Griffin, who set a then-Tulane record with 466 yards last week against UAB, completed 28-of-49 passes and threw four touchdown passes in his second-straight record-setting day. His 33-yard scoring strike to junior Wilson Van Hooser with 56 seconds left to play - Van Hooser's second scoring reception of the game - made things interesting as it cut an eight-point deficit down to a pair.
Tulane went for two in an attempt to tie the game and potentially send things into overtime, but Griffin's pass to junior Ryan Grant in the back on the endzone was batted away by Owls' cornerback Phillip Gaines. The Green Wave lined up for an on-sides attempt on the ensuing kickoff, and while Santos' kick was a perfect two-hopper which bounced high in the air, Rice tight end Taylor Cook was able to come away with the ball in a scrum to preserve the Owls' victory.
Griffin's becomes just the second player in Tulane history to post consecutive 400-yard passing games - equaling the feat of Patrick Ramsey in 1999 - and becomes the first Green Wave quarterback to throw for at least 300 yards in four consecutive games since J.P. Losman did so in the first four games of the 2003 season.
Grant finished the day with five receptions for 176 yards to become the first Tulane receiver to post 100-plus yards in three straight games since Adrian Burnette in 1999. Sophomore running back Rob Kelley led all players with eight receptions while tallying 49 receiving yards, including a seven-yard touchdown.
Four of the Green Wave's turnovers came in the first half as Tulane gave away fumbles on a kickoff return, a muffed punt and following a reception deep in Rice territory, and a second-quarter interception by Rice's Gabe Baker who returned the pick 55 yards for a score to put the Owls on top 28-10.
Tulane closed out the first-half scoring with Santos' record-setting kick and scored 21 unanswered points during an eight-minute span in the third quarter to take a 38-35 lead. Rice, however, sandwiched touchdown runs of three and two yards by Luke Turner around a 42-yard Santos field goal, were able to come up with a big stop on the two-point try and recovered an on-side kick late to snap a 14-game C-USA road losing streak.
"Our guys are young but they are classy guys," Johnson said. "They don't ever quit and that is one of the things that we have instilled in them. That's just something they don't do. Even early in the season when we were down big, we just never quit. They have found the intestinal fortitude to fight back and take one thing at a time. We acknowledged the plays that we had screwed up in the first half and we just moved on."
Tulane got off to a rough start as Rice took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards on seven plays which quarterback Taylor McHargue capped with a nine-yard touchdown run. A Green Wave fumble on the ensuing kickoff set up the Owls at the Tulane 17, and McHargue found the endzone again with an 11 yard run four plays later to make it 14-0 before the home team's offense ever took the field.
The Green Wave got on the board two drives later when Griffin connected with Van Hooser for a 35-yard touchdown to cut the deficit in half, but Rice answered with a Turner Petersen six-yard scoring run and Baker's interception return for a score to put Tulane in a deep hole.
Tulane surrendered the ball for the fifth time on the first play of the second half when Griffin's pass was intercepted by Cody Bauer, but the Owls returned the favor and then some as senior cornerback Ryan Travis stepped in front of a McHargue offering and returned it 73 yards for the score to make it 28-17
Rice stretched the lead back to 18 when Charles Ross found paydirt on an 11-yard run, but Tulane scored touchdowns on its next three possessions - Kelley's seven-yard catch with 10:43 to play in the third quarter, a Griffin-to-Rush toss of 62 yards 4:13 later, and a one-yard touchdown run by junior running back Orleans Darkwa with 2:55 to go in the frame to stake Tulane to a three-point lead and set up the wild finish.
Freshman free safety Darion Monroe led the Green Wave defense with 10 tackles (7 solo, 3 assists) while junior linebacker Zach Davis (5 solo, 3 assists), senior defensive end Austen Jacks (3 solo, 5 assists) and senior middle linebacker Darryl Farley (2 solo, 6 assists) followed with eight stops each. Jacks, junior defensive tackle Julius Warmsley and freshman defensive lineman Calvin Thomas each had a sack, and senior safety Shakiel Smith had a pair of pass break-ups and a fumble recovery.
McHargue finished the day with 259 yards on 12-of-20 passing while running 19 times for 60 yards and a pair of scores. Ross paced the Rice ground game with 95 yards on 20 totes. Taylor Cook was the favorite target on the day with three receptions for 53 yards. Cameron Nwosu led the Owls' defense with seven tackles (6 solo, 1 assist).
The Green Wave return to action on Saturday, Nov. 10, when they travel to Tennessee to take on C-USA foe Memphis at 6 p.m. in the Liberty Bowl. Tulane's next home game is slated for Saturday, Nov. 17, when the Wave play host to league rival East Carolina. The game against the Pirates is the final home game of the season and the Tulane Senior Class will be honored with a special ceremony prior to kickoff.
Tickets that game as well as 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.