Who better to give us the scoop on the Tulane Green Wave than the guys who follow them day in and day out? JP from Fear the Wave is an excellent resource on all things Tulane and was kind enough to provide some detailed answers for BSD as kickoff draws near. If you have any other burning questions drop them in the comments and we’ll see if we can get you an answer.
BSD: As you head into the first season with new Head Coach Willie Fritz, what is the general expectation that Tulane fans seem to have for the team this season?
FTW: Tulane fans are trying to answer this question ourselves, honestly. On one side, the level of engagement and fan interest is extremely high right now. No joke, it's a fun time to be a Tulane fan, which we haven't always said. Short story: we have a new Athletic Director in Troy Dannen who, weeks after taking the job, found an immediate home run hire with Coach Willie Fritz. This hiring was universally lauded, which is rare in our experience for Tulane Athletics. Blogger So Dear did a great job outlining why: Fritz has won at every school and level of football so far in a career that has spanned decades. Over that stretch, he has never won fewer than five games in a season as Head Coach. Wave fans see him as the real McCoy.
So yes, that is pretty exciting when you're a fan of a team coming dual 3-9 seasons. Nonetheless, it's "year zero" for a new head coach, and you have to try and set your bar low knowing that he's taking on a team that has struggled and will be working with a very inexperienced offense, especially in these early weeks. We're optimistic for the future; the question is when that future will arrive.
BSD: With a stable of backs, do they each offer a distinct skill set? Who do you think will get the majority of the carries in the new offense?
FTW: On the offensive side of the ball, Fritz - who is known as one of college football's best ground game architects - inherited a hidden treasure. All four backs who will see time are very good, and they have really flown under the radar because the old staff emphasized the passing game (both strategically and out of need when getting way behind in many games last year). That might sound like a lame excuse, but I'm not kidding. Robert Kelley, a senior on last year's team who was allowed just 65 carries all year, is now the dark horse running back of Washington Redskins camp.
My point being: Tulane has an untapped resource in this unit, and we're really fascinated to see Fritz work his magic.
Looking at the skill sets, Dontrell Hilliard and Sherman Badie will be the first tier of backs, and I expect them to be on the field at the same time quite a bit based on what we have seen from Fritz's offenses of the past. They are very complete players, and they can make impact in the passing game as well. Fritz loves working multiple backs into the game to keep defenses on their toes and open up the option.
The second platoon will be Josh Rounds and Lazedrick Thompson. Rounds, like Hilliard, is a pretty balanced back. Zeddy is a wrecking ball, and he's done a great job in past seasons in short yardage situations. I'd expect them to work in tandem as well.
I would guess that Hilliard sees the largest share of the workload, but all four of those guys will be in the mix. The players have emphasized that in the Fritz offense, a lot of players are going to touch the ball. A big element of the Fritz offense historically (like most option-based attacks) is continuously giving the defense new looks in both personnel and formation.
BSD: Aside from standout DT Tanzel Smart, who is a player to watch on the defensive side of the ball?
Defense is another story for Tulane. This is an extremely experienced group of players across the depth chart. If I had to choose just one though: Nico Marley. He's an all-AAC player. He's a monster at linebacker at just 5'9". He's a Tasmanian Devil with a great instinct for making plays. You can say all of that without even mentioning that he's the son of former Miami LB Rohan Marley and grandson of reggae legend Bob Marley.
I'll put a bonus name out there too. Parry Nickerson was a freshman All-American at cornerback who didn't quite have the same flare in 2015. I am expecting him to have a bounce-back season. He has great quickness, and he can cause nightmares for opposing quarterbacks. He enters 2016 healthy, and he's not a guy that you want to throw at. Watch out for him too.
BSD: Due to the inexperience of the passing game, are you expecting very run-heavy play calling?
FTW: I think this is a fair assumption, especially when looking at Fritz's style of offense. One caveat: I would expect to see us throw the ball a lot more than you would expect from, say, watching Georgia Southern game film.
Redshirt sophomore Glenn Cuiellette won the starting quarterback job, and he is built as more of a pocket passer. That said, he can run, but I would not expect us to see an extremely option-heavy attack. It will be part of the game plan, but Fritz will also push more traditional passing concepts as well. That's my guess.
BSD: Do you expect more than one QB to get snaps in week 1?
FTW: Yes, word this week is that we're going to see two quarterbacks in the mix. Cuiellette will be working the bulk of the snaps. However, we will also see one of our run-heavy quarterbacks as well. On our podcast this week, I interviewed one of the Tulane beat writers, and he believes it will be freshman Darius Bradwell.
Bradwell is obviously very green, no pun intended, but he has a ton of athletic ability. I would expect him to be the second quarterback in the mix.
BSD: What is your opinion of the helmets the Green Wave are debuting for Thursday?
FTW: Long live the #AngryWave. Seriously, it's really awesome to see the branding the department has been doing, both of Tulane Football and Green Wave Athletics more generally. For anyone not familiar, we've restored the old school "Angry Wave" logo, and it will be the decal on the team's helmets.
Before this, we were using a more generic "T" like every other T-named school. Great to see the team doing something different and finding its own identity.
BSD: What's your final prediction?
FTW: This is an extremely hard one to predict, for the reasons above. Prevailing wisdom (and the folks in Vegas who have Wake as a three score favorite) would say this one is easily going to the Demon Deacons. Can't explain it, but my gut is telling me Tulane does something crazy on Thursday.
I think both teams have solid defenses that will face offenses that have not clicked. I think Cuiellette has been more poised than you would expect (he's actually the only QB in FBS who will start Week 1 without ever having thrown a college pass before), and I think Fritz is going to have more firepower than we have seen from Tulane with this arsenal of backs.
I can't help it, might just be the spirit of #Fritzmas. I am taking Tulane to catch Wake by surprise in a 21-17 upset. If this goes way off, I'll owe you guys a trip to Biscuitville.
Thanks again to JP for his time and we plan to hold him to that last comment, although I’m more of a Bojangles man myself.