Tulane Green Wave 2016 Preview and Prediction
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#117 Tulane Green Wave
American Athletic West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Willie Fritz, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Doug Ruse | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jack Curtis
Willie Fritz takes over at Tulane after leading Georgia Southern the past two seasons. The Green Wave will look to adopt Fritz' run-oriented offensive philosophy, especially given the overall lack of experience on that side of the ball. The defense returns seven starters, but that's from a unit that gave up more than 36 points per game last season.
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Previewing Tulane’s Offense for 2016
First, the good news. Coach Willie Fritz fielded the nation’s No. 1 rushing team in both of his seasons at Georgia Southern, and he inherited a deep, talented group of running backs when he arrived at Tulane in December. Junior Dontrell Hilliard is capable of a 1,000-yard season if he gets enough carries. Big-play specialist Sherman Badie, the physical Lazedrick Thompson and Josh Rounds are capable of making an impact as well.
The question is what the Green Wave will do at every other position. Two-year starting quarterback Tanner Lee transferred to Nebraska because he did not think he would be a good fit for Fritz’ system, which would have required him to run often. Untested sophomore Glen Cuiellette competed with true freshman early enrollee Darius Bradwell in the spring, but both of them struggled mightily as passers.
Tulane is thin at wide receiver. Teddy Veal (48 receptions) transferred to Louisiana Tech and Devon Breaux (25) gave up football to concentrate on track and field. Sophomore Terren Encalade, converted tight end Trey Scott and former walk-on Larry Dace were the top targets in the spring.
The most important man on Fritz’ staff may be offensive line coach Alex Atkins. He needs to coax better play from a unit that was abysmal throughout former coach Curtis Johnson’s tenure. Atkins will rely heavily on guard Chris Taylor, a third-year starter who has been inconsistent, and center Junior Diaz, who became a starter late last year.
Previewing Tulane’s Defense for 2016
The starting point is higher on defense, particularly up front, where Tulane held Navy’s triple-option attack to its lowest rushing total of 2015. Senior Tanzel Smart made 62 tackles with 15 for a loss — both astronomical totals for an interior lineman — on his way to first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors. Raw but talented end Ade Aruna learned on the job a year ago and should be much improved. Tackles Sean Wilson and Eldrick Washington give the Green Wave depth in the middle.
Senior linebacker Nico Marley, another first-team All-AAC selection, has 232 career tackles despite being listed generously at 5'10", 208 pounds. Fritz has embraced his unconventional style, saying Marley has a knack for making plays. The coaches also like the effort of senior Eric Thomas.
Pass defense was a trouble spot last year and could be again with the graduation of four-year starting safety Darion Monroe. Jarrod Franklin moved to safety from nickel back in the spring. Cornerback Parry Nickerson struggled as a sophomore after a tremendous redshirt freshman season (six interceptions, 12 passes defensed). The return of safety Leonard Davis from a yearlong suspension could help.
Previewing Tulane’s Specialists for 2016
The Green Wave could improve their win total just by eliminating the kicking debacles that have plagued them of late. Sophomore punter Zachary Block will look to improve his 37.9-yard average. Placekicker Andrew DiRocco bounced back from a rough freshman year to make 9-of-10 field goals, but his range is only about 40 yards. Improving the return game is a priority. Tulane ranked 115th in kickoff returns with a long of 36 and had no punt return of more than 15 yards.
Fritz has won right away everywhere he has coached but faces his biggest challenge. The defense has potential, but Tulane has no experience at quarterback, no proven production on the offensive line and a questionable receiving corps. Look for a ground-based approach that tries to take advantage of the talented running backs while the quarterbacks make plays with their feet rather than their arms. At least the non-conference schedule is favorable, with Wake Forest and Massachusetts replacing Duke and Georgia Tech.