Tulane Passing Offense Showing Signs of Life


It’s not a secret that Tulane head football coach Willie Fritz loves to run the ball and play “keep away” by dominating time of possession each week. However, in the Green Wave’s surprising 3-2 start, Fritz has put an emphasis on something just as important: striking a balance on offense.

Now as Tulane’s next home game takes place against the visiting Memphis Tigers in an AAC conference game this Friday at Yulman Stadium (at 7 p.m. Central time), Fritz is hoping that after the Tulane passing offense appeared to be on its “death bed” after the first 3 weeks of the season, that it can continue to shows signs of life.

As evidence of how bad things were early in the season, the Green Wave passing game in the first 3 games averaged a paltry 55.6 yards per game, with 0 passing TD’s.

The Green Wave in those games were 1-2.

Tulane’s run game in those 3 contests averaged 274 yards per game, thereby making the Green Wave one-dimensional and predictable.

Teams were putting 9 men in the box, and essentially daring the Green Wave passing game to beat them.

Sep 17, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tulane Green Wave quarterback Johnathan Brantley (1) carries the ball beside Navy Midshipmen defensive end Amos Mason (52) in the second half at Yulman Stadium. Navy defeated Tulane 21-14. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

All throughout Fall Camp, the one true known was that not any of the Green Wave’s potential 3 starting QB’s had ever thrown a college pass.

Tulane QB’s Glen Cuiellette and Johnathan Brantley were in an intense battle going into the season. There was no clear cut winner going into the first game, and Coach Fritz decided that both players would share playing time.

Maybe it was the indecision at QB that caused the low passing production; or perhaps it was the simple fact that you had young and inexperienced QB’s learning a new offense.

Undoubtedly, sharing reps in practice and cycling in 2 different QB’s during the game stifles flow and continuity. The offense has to be on the same page and work in concert with one another.

For Coach Fritz’s offense to work and be formidable, it’s very important for the RB’s and QB to be on cue with their reads. That comes with reps and familiarity.

Initially, in the first 3 games the Green Wave were completely one-dimensional — with a failing passing game on offense, and a team saved only by its biggest strength: the defense.

Sep 1, 2016; Winston-Salem, NC, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons running back Matt Colburn (22) runs the ball during the first half against the Tulane Green Wave at BB&T Field. Wake defeated Tulane 7-3. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

But once Coach Fritz named Cuiellette his starting QB for the ULL Ragin Cajuns game in Week #4, his maturity and leadership reached unknown levels — and Fritz suddenly had “his guy”.

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Before the Rajun Cajuns game, Cuiellette had not thrown a touchdown. In that quadruple overtime thriller, he threw a career-high 4 TD’s. In his last game against UMass. he threw for a game-clinching TD.

In the 2 games since being named the starting QB, Cuiellette is 21-43, 333 yards, 5 TD’s and 1 interception. These passing numbers aren’t daunting, but has allowed the Green Wave to move the ball consistently, create explosive pass plays, and keeping defenses honest.

The Green Wave are now throwing for 103 yards a game (second to last in FBS), and running for 246 yards per game (16th in FBS). Obviously, that’s not quite the “balance” that Fritz was hoping for, but it’s a major improvement over where they were after the first 3 games.

In short, Tulane’s passing offense has slowly began to “come to life”.

Coach Fritz on the passing game’s progress:

"“If we can run the ball effectively, we can get man coverage when you get safeties putting their eyes inside,” Fritz said. “We had an opportunity to throw the ball over the top again. That’s what we like to do is have some balance.”“Now that we’re starting to throw the ball effectively, we’re going to start getting some regular defenses instead of a defense of the week,” he said. “When I say defense of the week, the opponent is stacking the box and having too many dudes in there for us to block. Now, we’ve got one-on-ones, and with play action, we can get behind some people.”"

The main beneficiary in the passing game surge has been Green Wave wide receiver Terren Encalade.

Encalade can play any WR position and his numbers have risen since he moved to the slot.  Against the Ragin Cajuns, Encalade finished with 103 yards and a career-best 7 receptions.

Encalade also had 3 TD receptions and is the first Green Wave player since 2004 (Roydell Wiliams)  to have 3 receiving TD’s in a game.

Encalade followed that game with a stellar effort against UMass. Encalade tied his career best with 7 receptions for 125 yards and is the first  player since 2012 (Ryan Gant) to have consecutive 100 yards receiving games.

In the past 2 games, Encalade has provided a spark with 4 TD’s, 12 receptions, for 228 yards.

Although the Green Wave started 1-2, they were doing some things  correctly to keep them in games. They  lacked explosive plays and couldn’t finish games.

Special teams — which has been terrible the last few years — has been stellar. Kicker Andrew DiRocco is 7 for 9 on FG attempts, and has made 3 from 40+ yards.

In 2015, he made zero from that range.

Another key in Tulane’s success has been the turnover battle. The Green Wave are plus +8 in the turnover battle. The Green Wave offense has 4 giveaways.

The Tulane defense has been the team’s biggest strength, and likely will continue to be so for the remainder of the season.

Nov 14, 2015; West Point, NY, USA; Tulane Green Wave linebacker Nico Marley (20) celebrates a defensive stop alongside defensive end Royce LaFrance (48) during the second half at Michie Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The defense play over the last several games in particular has been stellar, led by defensive tackle Tenzel Smart and linebacker Nico Marley.

The Green Wave defense allows 309 yards per game (16th in the nation), and 171 passing yards per game (17th in the nation). The Green Wave Front 7 is playing at a high level, and creating havoc on the opponent’s line of scrimmage.

With the balance of the season left to be played, the Green Wave seemed to have hit their stride and found ways to keep teams off balance.

Tulane (3-2) has found ways to improve the passing game, and special teams. It’s allowed the Green Wave to tip the scales in the win column….