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2018 Wake Forest Football Preseason Opponent Preview: Tulane

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Program wizard Willie Fritz is trying to do for Tulane what Dave Clawson has done for Wake Forest, and there’s some evidence to suggest it’s working.

Tulane v Florida International Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

In 2016, Wake Forest won a 7-3 squeaker against the Tulane Green Wave in the season opener. Thankfully, 2018 Wake Forest is extremely different from that group.

Running back Matt Colburn was the leading receiver for that game despite Cam Serigne, Scotty Washington, and Alex Bachman being on the roster. Obviously, this year is going to be (on paper) one of the strongest offensive units for Wake possibly ever, the only question mark being the quarterback position.

Tulane is coming off of a 5-7 season where they were inches away from making a bowl game, so they won’t be a pushover, but a lot of the hype around the program is based off of strong young players and a great recruiting class for Tulane, so I’d put it at equal odds that Tulane has a breakout year this year or next.

Head Coach Willie Fritz is eager to get Tulane to a bowl game and replicate the success that he had at Sam Houston State and Georgia Southern. He is a very intelligent football coach and has a sharp mind. Here is a video from him yesterday at the American Athletic Conference Media Day discussing bringing in analytics experts to help decide when to go for it on fourth down:

According to Football Study Hall, last year Tulane was a solid team, having the 46th best offense but only the 106th best defense. Wake Forest, on the other hand, notched the 23rd best offense and 66th best defense.

The Green Wave were picked to finish 5th in the AAC West by the media, ahead of just Tulsa. There is a big gap between the top three teams and the bottom three teams in the West, with Memphis, Houston, and Navy racking up the votes, leaving SMU, Tulane, and Tulsa well behind.

This year is expected to be more of the same on offense and defense for the Green Wave. The offense should be good again, with junior-college transfer senior Jonathan Banks returning to lead the triple option based offense. He ran for 729 yards on 128 carries last season, and was second on the team (to Dontrell Hilliard) in touchdowns with seven.

One thing Banks has to do better is limit the fumbles, as he fumbled seven times last year (lost three of them). When Banks threw the ball, which he did 219 times last season (18 times a game), he found fairly reasonable success, competing 56% of his passes for 12 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.

Fritz also added former Texas Tech four star running back Corey Dauphine via transfer. He, along with junior Darius Bradwell, will try to replace Hilliard and Sherman Badie, who graduated.

Despite relying heavily on a rushing attack, the Tulane offense managed to rank just 92nd in Rushing S&P+ per game, while ranking 90th in Rushing Success Rate. For an offense that is predicated on getting 3-4 yards per play and “staying on schedule” that certainly set the offense back a bit.

Noah Fisher, a late grad-transfer addition offensive lineman from South Alabama should help that a bit. He started 25 straight games for the Jaguars over the past two seasons, and was projected to be a First Team All Sun Belt player before transferring to Tulane for his final season.

Additionally, Fritz indicated that given the depth at WR this year, including another grad transfer from Notre Dame in Freddy Canteen, the Run Pass Option will continue to be worked into the offense and utilized.

Looking at the defensive side of things indicates a bit of a murky picture. The defense returns just one player on its defensive line, but a lot of young talent. In the secondary there is Donnie Lewis, Jr at cornerback, who had three interceptions and 11 passes broken up last year.

The linebacker position was a bit of an issue last year aside from Rae Juan Marbley, and unfortunately for the Green Wave he has exhausted his eligibility. He had 9.5 TFL and 15 run stuffs last year. It will rely on Zachery Harris to pick up that productivity void.

The goal for the Green Wave this year is certainly a bowl game, but there is a slim margin for error if it wants to do so. It hosts Wake Forest (34th in projected S&P+), and Memphis (42nd), and also has to travel to Ohio State (1st), USF (56th), and Houston (59th). To get to that six win mark it will need to take care of business against ECU, UAB, and Tulsa, and also win their toss-up games to avoid winning one or two of the tougher games.

Wake Forest is likely the second best team Tulane will take on all season, and the crowd should be pretty into it at Yulman Stadium for the Thursday night game. While the Deacs are currently near a ten point favorite, this game could be a bit closer than some fans might think.