Tulane heads into Curtis Johnson’s fourth year looking to rebound after a 3-9 record in 2014. The Green Wave has 13 returning starters and a promising core of talent to build around, but the offense is looking for a spark after struggling last season.
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Previewing Tulane’s Offense for 2015
Strong-armed sophomore quarterback Tanner Lee is the clear starter but will need to improve significantly after a rough redshirt freshman debut season in which Tulane struggled across the board offensively. The Green Wave ranked 107th in total offense and 121st in points, failing to score more than 14 in eight of their last nine games.
Lee was part of the problem, tossing more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (12). He threw for 262 yards and three scores in a 38–31 loss to Tulsa in the opener but cooled down quickly as defenses confused him and his freshman-laden receiving corps.
Almost all of Lee’s top targets are sophomores who learned on the job as true freshmen. Wide receiver Teddy Veal led the Green Wave with 40 catches for 381 yards. Tight ends Charles Jones and Trey Scott figured heavily in the offense during spring practice.
The running game, which ranked 91st nationally, should be a strength if it receives better blocking from a line that returns four starters. The three-headed backfield of speedy Sherman Badie (688 yards, 5.7 per carry), power runner Lazedrick Thompson (533 yards, four touchdowns) and well-rounded Dontrell Hilliard is one of the best in the American Athletic Conference. Badie broke off three runs of more than 70 yards.
Previewing Tulane’s Defense for 2015
With several key starters returning, Tulane should be closer to its form from 2013 (when it ranked 22nd nationally in yards allowed) than last season (when it dipped to 55th). The key will be replacing safety Sam Scofield, who led the team in tackles the past two years, and cornerback Lorenzo Doss, who declared for the draft after picking off 15 passes in three seasons.
The talent is there. Darion Monroe, a four-star recruit in 2012, returns for his fourth year as a starter at safety. Sophomore cornerback Parry Nickerson outplayed Doss last season, making 51 tackles with a team-high six interceptions.
Diminutive linebacker Nico Marley (5'9", 200), the Conference USA Co-Freshman of the Year in 2013, had no letdown as a sophomore, registering a team-best 13.5 tackles for a loss. He galvanizes everyone around him to play harder.
The Wave are solid at tackle, where junior All-AAC candidate Tanzel Smart (47 stops) and sophomore Sean Wilson are entering their second year as a tandem. End is a concern. Royce LaFrance has all-conference ability but was up and down as a junior before missing spring practice for academic reasons.
Related: Athlon’s 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
Previewing Tulane’s Specialists for 2015
The kicking game was a debacle last year, and correcting those woes is priority No. 1 for new special teams coach Doug Lichtenberger. First, he has to find a reliable kicker after the Wave missed half of their 16 field goals. Walk-on Trevor Simms has unlimited range but questionable accuracy. Sophomore Andrew DiRocco missed a potential game-winning 21-yarder in the opener and never recovered. Incoming freshman Zach Block is rated more highly as a punter than placekicker. Badie could boost a kickoff return unit that ranked second-to-last nationally. Punter Peter Picerelli is coming off a poor year (37.8-yard average).
The pieces are in place for an uptick in coach Curtis Johnson’s fourth season, but everything needs to go right after Tulane struggled with the move from Conference USA to the stronger AAC. Lee needs to mature quickly and get a better rapport with his young receivers. The running backs, whom Johnson considers NFL-caliber, need better blocking. The defense needs to apply more pressure on quarterbacks after having just 22 sacks last year. And, maybe most significantly, the Wave have to shore up their kicking game. The struggles there sapped confidence from the entire team.