Wave Goodbye: Tulane Losing Its Offense
By Matt Seidel
Tulane finished 101st in passing yards per game and 101st in rushing yards per game in the 2013 season, proving that balance is not synonymous with success.
Averaging a microscopic 310.6 yards per game, the Green Wave were routinely bailed out by kicker Cairo Santos, who attempted 13 field goals from more than 40 yards out and made seven of them. That’s not an earth-shattering percentage, but shows an over-reliance on the 2012 Lou Groza Award winner, whose departure could haunt the Green Wave and its offense.
Tulane's woes begin under center. Nick Montana, Joe Montana’s son, started the majority of the season, completing 53.4 percent of his passes for a feeble 5.8 yards per attempt. He threw 14 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, but was also sacked 23 times on 319 dropbacks. A nonfactor on the ground, he finished 2013 with four rushing yards.
Backup Devin Powell replaced the injured Montana in wins over East Carolina and Tulsa and finished the bowl game loss to Louisiana-Lafayette after Montana was pulled. For the season, he owned a 54.5 completion percentage, averaged 6.19 yards per attempt and threw an equal amount of touchdowns and interceptions (5).
Tulane’s standing of 100th in the FBS in completion percentage and 110th in yards per attempt exposed an inability to stretch the field and chew up yards. The longest pass play recorded by the Green Wave last season went for only 49 yards, a figure that would have been dead last in the nation if not for Memphis’ dreadful passing game.
Ryan Grant was the passing game’s lone bright spot. He capped his Tulane career with his second consecutive 1,000 yard performance and finished with nine touchdowns. However, his departure is problematic. Senior Justyn Shackleford, the leading returner, managed 95 catches, 1,254 yards and eight touchdowns in his previous three seasons combined.
The backfield is in a similar predicament. Orleans Darkwa was a solid contributor during his tenure and finished his career with 39 touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards in 2013. That’s an acceptable number, just not a guaranteed game changer. His backup Rob Kelley, a junior in 2013, averaged 4.3 yards on 98 carries.
None of these woes are individually problematic, but the culmination of poor to average performances at every skill position places the scoring burden elsewhere. Cairo Santos was a destroyer in 2012, knocking down 21-of-21 field goals en route to the Groza win. Santos was terrific on short kicks in 2013, missing only one field goal attempt of less than 40 yards. However, he attempted seven kicks from 40-49 (making five) and six from 50-plus (making two).
Relying on a placekicker for points is a huge risk. A bad snap, a poor rotation on the hold, a quick gust of wind or the kicker missing his spot on the ball by less than an inch can lead to a miss. Even with a kicker of considerable talent, a coaching staff can’t stretch him so thin as to mitigate offensive shortcomings. It won’t work. Santos’ perfect 2012 was followed by a good but not great 2013, not because he fundamentally changed as a player but because they can’t always go in; there are too many moving parts.
Santos graduated following the season, joining Grant and Darkwa on the list of departures. Santos was responsible for 86 points in 2013, Darkwa scored 72 points and Grant had 54. That’s 212 of the team’s 322 points. With a shaky quarterback situation, a backfield losing its reliable bruiser, the receiving corps’ sole threat drafted by the Washington Redskins and one of the nation’s leading leg men leaving to kick it in the NFL, the Wave is in dire straits.
A stingy defense made a bowl berth possible last year and the team mustered just enough scoring to eke out a few victories. An offense without any reliable playmakers, however, could doom head coach Curtis Johnson and company.