Curtis Johnson emphasizing strong finish to Tulane Season

Curtis Johnson emphasizing strong finish to Tulane Season

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Tulane lost its fifth straight game Saturday in a homecoming contest against UConn. With three games left in the season, coach Curtis Johnson is encouraging his team to look forward to the strong finish they can achieve, not the 2-7 start they have endured.

The following is a copy of Johnson's weekly media luncheon, as transcribed by Tulane Sports Information:

Opening Statement:
"It's tough. I just can't break through at Yulman Stadium for Homecoming. We did it at the Superdome [2013]. Last year, we played a tough Memphis team, and this year we played a really tough UConn team in the rain, as you know.

An update on the injuries: Eric Thomas's foot is going to keep him out this week, Corey Redwine is day-to-day with his concussion protocol, and so is Richard Allen. I don't know if we will have Eldrick Washington due to his ankle, so we are starting to mount up some injuries. Lazedrick [Thompson] practiced a little bit today, but I'm not sure if we are going to get him back in the mix yet.

Special teams was outstanding. We put all of our seniors back there mixed in with the young kids, and I think that was the best they have played all season. The offense couldn't get going at all. We really had only one sustained drive, and just couldn't move the ball. Tanner Lee came back with his first game since his injury.

I thought he started off playing decent, but then he started to not throw the ball as well. Part of it was the rain and part of it was the injury. We did consider playing other people just to give him a break, but it just wouldn't have made sense because we thought he would get it back to where he was. We are disappointed that we didn't run the ball better. UConn is a stout team, and the game plan was to throw it around to some of our bigger guys since they played a lot of zone, but we just didn't get that done. It was just a plethora of things. There were too many drops. If you look at the tape, you will see that there were at least four or five plays in the air that were dropped touchdowns."

Whether he foresees any personnel changes:
"We are definitely going to make some changes throughout. We are going to play some different receivers. I like the way Dontrell [Hilliard] and [Sherman] Badie ran, and I don't know if I want to put Lazedrick [Thompson] in there. I like Robert [Kelley] in there, and [Josh] Rounds can probably go in there too. We have two tight ends that are playing pretty decent, so they will stay in there. You asked me about the play calling earlier. This game was less play calling than some of the other ones were. I just thought we had some open opportunities, and to my disappointment, the kids just didn't catch a lot of those balls. Also, Tanner [Lee] didn't throw the ball in the right spots on some of those plays, but those plays are ones you have to make. I don't care if it's raining or not."

What the message is to Tulane fans on turning the ship around:
"I would tell them that as we have been going on throughout the season we have made a lot of progress. Our defense has really come along well. This is a tough conference. I was just talking to another reporter and told him that we have played the 29th highest conference schedule, more or less, against ranked teams, and all of those teams were ranked when we were playing them, with the exception of UConn [and UCF]. You can come see the progress of our defense, and our special teams is starting to come together. We found a good punter and good returner as well. I would tell them that there are still a lot of kids on our team that still have two more years to play, so, when you ask where we are right now, offensively, we're not as good as we need to be, but we will definitely get better. These skill guys are going to improve in the future, and we will be good in time to come."

Whether he's satisfied with the quality of guys he's recruiting:
"You absolutely have to get more of those numbers guys. When we started with these guys that are playing now, you start projecting against who you're playing against, and so we were projecting against Conference USA tier kids. When you recruit that, and then all of a sudden we get thrust into this other league, I really didn't know that this league would be this physical and this good this quickly, in regards to Houston, Temple, and Navy, as well as Memphis. It's taking us a little bit longer of a time to adjust. Every time you look up, we are playing more and more freshmen, since we get a little bit nicked up. Thus, we have two things going against us. We have to up the level of recruiting and when kids come here, they have to be ready to play."

More on the development of the young players:
"We are going to continue to develop our young players and play them as much as we can. We are going to continue to build, continue to recruit, and absolutely continue to develop. I think those kids are going to get better and better."

On how to keep the defensive players motivated in the last three games:
"They have been playing together for a long time. [Darion] Monroe is the consummate professional. He's a football player. Royce LaFrance is the same way, and so is Corey Redwine. Those are our only three seniors on defense, so they want to make a good showing. Those guys are going to continue to play hard, just like they have been playing for their whole careers."

On fixing the problem of not be able to convert on 2nd and short:
"I think part of it is that sometimes you say, who is our best short yardage runner? I think we all can say that it's Lazedrick [Thompson]. Well, he's not on the field right now, so you have to call plays that Dontrell Hilliard and Sherman [Badie] are familiar with, and some of those plays are wide plays. We just have to block it better and continue to run it and get those tough yards. I don't what to throw on every second and one play, but you need to have a guy who can run through a couple of tackles and get those few yards, and that's what we've had in the past with [Orleans] Darkwa and Lazedrick [Thompson].

Whether he expected more improvement from the wide receivers:
"Teddy [Veal] has been hurt all year, but this game was probably the biggest disappointment out of the receiving crew all around. I know it was a wet game, and I looked on their sideline as well. They didn't catch the ball and we didn't catch the ball. We have to be able to make those plays. This game was about one or two catches that would've changed the outcome of the game, and neither team made those catches. That was the biggest disappointment of it all."

On Devon Breaux not being able to get his foot down for a key catch:
"Very disappointing. You should absolutely know where you are on the field at all times. You should know those things, and we didn't get it done. I don't know if it was the weather or Tanner Lee just coming back for the first time. If you want to be a football player and have a successful offense, those plays are the plays that need to be made."

On playing his third option team:
"I thought we played well against Navy. It's just one of those things. I don't think anyone has ever played three option teams in a row this season. Hopefully we continue to learn from these games. We learned a lot from Georgia Tech to Navy, and I hope we can learn a little bit more from Navy to Army and bring home a victory. I'm excited about playing the option and seeing our guys play, because they played well against Navy, and this a tough Army team. They have more formations than you think an option team will have. Their quarterback is dynamic also, but I like our preparation for the option."

On Tanner Lee's status:
"I think he's better. I thought, at the end of the game, because of the rain, he didn't feel as well as he did in the beginning of the game, but I think he's coming along. I thought he threw the ball well today in practice. Certainly the best he's thrown it since the injury."

On the importance of finishing strong:
"We have to finish strong, so I can at least sleep a little bit. We have to win this one, and you take it one game at time. We have to go up to West Point, and we have to win this weekend, then we will talk about SMU and Tulsa after that."

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