Sept. 27, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - The Tulane University football team will start its third new quarterback in as many weeks as fifth-year senior D.J. Ponder will open the game under center when the Green Wave play host to ULM on Saturday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. and the game will be aired live locally on Cox Sports Television.
With fellow senior Ryan Griffin and true freshman Devin Powell sidelined with shoulder and toe injuries, respectively, Ponder will not only be making his first appearance of the 2012 season but also the first start of his collegiate career. In addition, the Green Wave expect to have junior running back Orleans Darkwa on the field against the Warhawks. Darkwa missed the first three games of the season after suffering an ankle injury during preseason drills.
"D.J. (Ponder) will probably get the start," first-year Tulane head football coach Curtis Johnson said after Thursday's practice. "I'm about 99 percent sure he will. Ryan Griffin has been out with a shoulder injury. He's been out the last couple of games. Devin Powell has a toe injury. It's still swollen and he's still in a walking boot. He'll be on the shelf, so we'll play with D.J. Ponder."
While the ULM game will mark Ponder's first start, it will not be the first time he has seen extensive action as the Baton Rouge native has played in 21 games with the Green Wave football team. In addition, Ponder appeared in 54 career games with the Tulane baseball team and was named second-team All-Conference USA last spring after going 2-1 with 12 saves and a 1.10 ERA as the Wave's closer.
For his career, Ponder has completed 26-of-62 passes for 266 yards. As a junior last season, he appeared in seven games off the bench and tallied 214 yards on 18-of-48 passing. When Ponder takes the field against the Warhawks, it will mark the first time Tulane will have three different starting quarterbacks in the same season since 2007 when Scott Elliott started the first three games, Anthony Scelfo started eight of the final nine contests. The lone game not started by the pair was in the final home game of the year when running back Matt Forté opened the UTEP game taking the snap in the Wildcat formation.
The last time three full-time quarterbacks started in a season was in 1995 when Aley Demarest started the first four contests, true freshman Shaun King started six and Tracey Watts started one.
"(Ponder is) experienced," Johnson said. "He knows what to do. He knows where to put the ball. He's a good player. He's not a young guy so you like the experience factor. I think he'll be fine. I don't think anything is too big for D.J. D.J.'s been in baseball. He was one of the best pitchers on the team here last year. Just being out there, I don't think it's too big for him."
As a team, Tulane (0-3) is averaging 199.3 yards of total offense per game (9.7 rushing, 189.7 passing) while giving up 470.0 per contest defensively (273.0 rushing, 197.0 passing). Sophomore Rob Kelley leads the Green Wave's ground attack with 81 yards on 31 carries (2.6 avg.) while junior Ryan Grant paces the aerial attack with 17 receptions for 274 yards (16.1 avg.) and a touchdown.
Defensively, junior middle linebacker Zach Davis headlines the squad with 20 tackles (15 solo, 5 assists) while freshman free safety Darion Monroe (15 solo, 3 assists) and senior strong safety Shakiel Smith (12 solo, 1 assist) follow with tackle totals of 18 and 13, respectively. Tulane has three sacks among 16 tackles for loss and has forced five turnovers.
Senior defensive end Austen Jacks paces the team with 3.0 tackles for loss while Davis, sophomore defensive tackle Kenny Welcome and junior defensive lineman Julius Warmsley have 1.0 sack apiece. Welcome leads the Wave with a pair of forced fumbles and senior cornerback Ryan Travis has three of the teams' five pass break-ups and the lone interception to date.
"We've got to be concerned with ourselves and what we do," Johnson said. "We can't have penalties. We can't miss assignments. We've got to tackle when we need to and we've got to run the ball more. Our biggest concern is just doing our things the right way and we'll see how things end up at the end of the game."
ULM, meanwhile, comes to town 1-2 on the year after defeating then-No. 8 Arkansas, 34-31 in overtime in the season opener on Sept. 8, while dropping games to national powers Auburn and Baylor by a combined total of just eight points the last two weekends. As a team, the Warhawks are averaging 506.7 yards of total offense (188.3 rushing, 318.3 passing) while allowing 448.0 yards per game defensively (173.3 rushing, 274.7 passing).
Quarterback Kolton Browning leads the ULM attack with 921 yards and eight touchdowns on 95-of-152 passing while sitting second on the team rushing with 176 yards and a team-high three touchdowns on 43 carries. Jyruss Edwards paces the Warhawks' ground game with 232 yards to go with a pair of scores on 53 totes. Thirteen ULM players have caught at least one pass during the 2012 season and Brent Leonard leads the way with 26 grabs for 237 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Defensively, R.J. Young leads ULM with 27 tackles (12 solo, 15 assists) while Mitch Lane (10 solo, 13 assists) and Cameron Blakes (13 solo, 5 assists) follow with 23 and 18 stops, respectively. The Warhawks have two sacks among seven tackles for loss and have forced six turnovers.
Blakes and Ray Stoval share the team lead with 2.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack each. Lane has three of the team's 14 pass break-ups and has the squad's lone fumble recovery. DaCorris Ford had a pair of interceptions to his credit while Cordero Smith has ULM's only forced fumble.
"They're a fine football team," Johnson said of ULM. "They've played Auburn, they beat Arkansas and they also played Baylor well. They are an outstanding football team. It'll be a tough game, but we'll play them well.
"Offensively, their quarterback is sensational. I love their quarterback. He can throw it. He can run it. He can do all kinds of stuff. He's good. They have a solid, solid running game. Their two backs are awesome. They throw it around pretty decent but we've got to stop their run. Defensively, they'll come at you and they come at you in a lot of different angles. Those linebackers are exceptional. They've got a good, big defensive front. They pose a good challenge."
Saturday's game marks just the third time the two teams will meet on the gridiron and Tulane holds a 2-0 advantage in the all-time series. The Green Wave won the initial meeting, 52-9 on Oct. 5, 2002, in Monroe, La., and most recently defeated the Warhawks 24-10 on Sept. 20, 2008, in the Superdome.
"I thought practice has been good all week," Johnson added. "They're enthusiastic. The coaches are doing a great job of getting them going. They're making less mental mistakes. They're playing well. They feel good about themselves. As long as they have the confidence (in practice), they just need to carry that to the games."
Season and individual-game ticket sales for the 2012 football season are currently for sale 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.
Tickets to Saturday's game against ULM can also be purchased on Saturday at the Superdome Will-Call window, which opens at 11:30 a.m., and gates will open at 12:30 p.m.
COACH TO CURE MD: For the fifth year in a row, the Tulane University football coaching staff will lend their support to the Coach to Cure MD program, which will be held around the nation during games from Sept 22-29. The rapidly-growing annual effort has raised more than half a million dollars to battle Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Last year, Tulane football joined more than 10,000 college coaches and 505 different institutions to participate. Football fans can donate to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research by either going online to www.CoachtoCureMD.org or by texting the word CURE to 90999 (a $5 donation will automatically be added to your next phone bill).
BAND DAY: In addition to the action during regulation play, the field at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be full of young musicians as Tulane Athletics will celebrate its Fourth Annual Band Day. Over 400 students from area schools - including Chalmette High, Dominican High, Harry Hurst Middle, J.B. Martin Middle, Patrick F. Taylor High, Rayne High, St. James High and Roots of Music - will perform prior to and at halftime of the Tulane/ULM game. The participants will join the Tulane Band during the pre-game show and will align with both the Tulane and ULM bands during halftime.