Today’s game was never going to be normal, but the universe somehow found a way to make it even more irregular than anyone could anticipate.
Tulane playing an early-season conference game against Navy today was always the plan, but then COVID-19 shook things up and emptied the stands, as well as the press box. The press row at Yulman is small to begin with, so factoring in social distancing meant that literally almost no one was in the area.
In addition to everything else, Tulane and Navy got to deal with tropical storm Beta, marking the third time in the past month that the Gulf Coast and specifically New Orleans had to deal with such a weather event just in the past month.
Based on what I saw of Navy against BYU, and of Tulane against South Alabama, I was fully expecting the Green Wave to take home the win. The only thing we didn’t know was how meaningful their slow start against the Jaguars really was, or whether Navy’s lack of early-season tackling in practice was really explanatory of anything.
I’m not sure we have any more answers after today, as Tulane decided to change nothing all game long and turn in two different halves of football that eventually cost them the game.
In the first half, Navy crossed the 50-yard line for the first time with just under eight minutes to go, on a drive that started at the 50-yard line and finished with a punt from their own 48.
Their first two plays were a nine-yard run and a four-yard run, and from that point onward they managed to run the ball 18 times for 20 yards, plus a lone 14-yard pass. With three minutes left in the first half Navy suddenly tried a downfield passing attack. A deep bomb up the seam was overthrown, then an out-route went for 14 yards and their second first down of the game.
It seemed like Tulane would coast from that point onward, with a strong running game and just enough passing success to keep the defense honest. Instead, suddenly Will Hall was adamant about trying to establish some rhythm in the passing game that was never really going to appear since Keon Howard is his quarterback.
Howard needs to improve as a passer for Tulane to be great this season, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. He still makes the same mistakes he made at Southern Miss; scrambling as soon as he feels any pressure, and launching balls everywhere but right at his receivers when he is on the move because he can’t be bothered to reset his body.
Tulane would likely have led either 27-0 or 31-0 at the half if Keon hadn’t ended their last drive rolling out and launching a pass at a receiver that wasn’t open and wasn’t looking for the ball yet either.
It was mildly concerning but otherwise okay that the Green Wave opened the second half with a three-and-out, since Navy only mustered another shaky drive ending in a badly missed 57-yard field goal. Then the Wave produced three more three-and-outs while Navy finally found a 44-yard pass and a 48-yard run, each of which set up a touchdown.
Suddenly, a great punt pins Tulane at their own one, and an odd time for a jet sweep gives Navy a safety and a one-score deficit heading into the fourth quarter. Tulane continued to do nothing on offense, and the momentum continued to shift until Tulane’s last drive ended with an ill-advised pass to the end zone on fourth and three from the Navy 32.
Navy took over, marching right down the field for a field goal to win as time expired. Howard only completed one of his last nine passes, and while there were a few dropped passes sprinkled in, Keon is now 24-for-55 for 299 in two games this season. He is by far the most experienced quarterback on the roster, but if he is the best quarterback Willie Fritz has, then it’s going to become a long season when they start actually playing the good teams on their schedule