Raymond Maples (Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE)
The Army ground game looked good against Tulane. The Black Knights even passed a little bit, too. Quarterback Trent Steelman was 3-for-3 for 70 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more scores as Army routed Tulane 45-6 at soggy Michie Stadium on Saturday.
Raymond Maples had a career-high 141 rushing yards and a touchdown, while Larry Dixon and Kelechi Odocha ran for their first-career touchdowns and the Black Knights (2-3) beat Tulane for the fourth time in five meetings.
"That's the first time in a while we've put together an entire game as an offense," said Steelman, who added 54 rushing yards. "That was huge." Army coach Rich Ellerson had said this week that the Black Knights would need to improve their passing - ranked last in the nation with just 38.8 yards per game - in what became a crucial matchup if Army hopes to return to a second-straight bowl game following last week's 48-21 defeat at Ball State.
As it turned out, the nation's No. 3 rushing team didn't attempt a pass until inside of five minutes to play in the first half, a five-yard completion to Maples that set up Steelman's 1-yard touchdown, his team-leading ninth of the season. That made it 21-6 at halftime, and Army was on its way to a 353-yard rushing performance. Tulane fumbled early in the third quarter, one of four turnovers, squandering a 1st-and-goal chance.
Army then got out of its own zone on Maples's 39-yard run. Four plays later, Steelman connected for a 40-yard touchdown strike down the left sideline to Davyd Brooks, Army's longest passing play and Steelman's first touchdown pass of the season. It put the Black Knights ahead 28-6 with 9:54 to play in the third quarter.
"The good stuff that will happen for us in the passing game will happen when we're attacking run support. We got them leaning," said Ellerson, whose team racked up 423 yards of total offense to Tulane's season-low 199.
"We're not throwing for the heck of it." Tulane (2-3) needed just three plays and 66 seconds to score the game's first touchdown, a 3-yard run by Orleans Darkwa (138 yards) that followed his 67-yard sprint the play before. Darkwa ran for 92 yards in the first quarter, bouncing back from last week's paltry 10-yard performance in a loss to Duke, which put his playing time in doubt. But Army wasn't rattled, and Tulane didn't help itself with 10 penalties for 92 yards.
"Tulane had that one big play, but after that, we were all over them for the rest of the game," said Army junior linebacker Nate Combs, who had three tackles. Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin was 10 for 19 for 74 yards and an interception.
"They physically ran through us," Tulane coach Bob Toledo said. ''To lose the game and lose it the way we did, it puts a lot of pressure on us." The Green Wave converted just 3 of 10 third downs, and had to punt five times.
"That was shutdown coverage," said Army defensive back Josh Jackson, who intercepted Griffin on a 3rd-and-24 and returned it for 36 yards, Army's first takeaway since week one.
"We pretty much had the receivers sandwiched all game. You throw it, and it's getting picked."
The Black Knights answered the opening Tulane touchdown on the ensuing drive, relying solely on the run to march 70 yards, capped by freshman Dixon's 2-yard touchdown rush. The PAT gave Army a 7-6 lead with 8:35 to play in the opening quarter.
Maples, a sophomore, had 15 carries, including his 23-yard touchdown run seven seconds into the fourth quarter, to make it 38-6. Army's win evened the all-time series between the one-time Conference USA rivals at 9-9-1, as Tulane fell to 2-3 for the fourth consecutive year.
Army won consecutive home games for the first time since 2008 and avenged Tulane's last-second win here in 2009.
"Now we have to prove we can handle success," Ellerson said.