A Tulane Football Mid-Season Recap

The Green Wave has shattered expectations. But how have they done it?

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The Mid-Season Wave

By FTW Staffer Janny Meza. He has covered Tulane as credentialed media for three seasons, and you can find him on Twitter.

Looking back on the preseason rankings, the media made their expectations clear: the Green Wave may be due for a solid season but nothing more.

Willie Fritz and Co. had different plans in mind. Since then, they have mounted an historic comeback vs Houston on a now-legendary Thursday night in Uptown and snapped Army’s 15-game home winning streak in West Point. The Wave now stands at 4-1, and they’ve blown past the tempered expectations of the College Football world. The nationwide buzz around the team has not been seen like this since the famed 1998 season. Greenies now dream of possibly playing in a New Year’s Six bowl and a precious spot in the Top 25, but let’s reflect on how this team got here.  

The Numbers: Tulane is Reaching New Offensive Heights 

Let’s take a look at the numbers. 

Key Offensive Team Statistics (FBS only): 

  • 27th in Total Offense 

  • 6th in Rushing Offense 

  • Averaging 283.4 Rushing YPG 

  • T-1st in Red Zone Offense 

  • Averaging 37.2 PPG 

The Wave’s bread and butter this year is the ground game. Although Darius Bradwell leads the team in carries, with 66 so far, first-year offensive coordinator Will Hall has reaped the rewards of a fruitful running-back-by-committee approach. The Wave have gained 300+ rushing yards in 3 of 4 games vs FBS opponents. Additionally, of the four rushers with 20+ carries (Bradwell, Corey Dauphine, Amare Jones, and Justin McMillan) on the 2019 season, three are averaging over five YPC. Corey Dauphine has been the most explosive runner, averaging a whopping 9.9 YPC The lone outcast of the group, Darius Bradwell, falls just short of this benchmark averaging 4.9 YPC. This is unprecedented dominance in the trenches (...we owe a shoutout to the offensive line).  

The Green Wave offense continues their excellence in the red zone from 2018, currently sitting as the best red zone offense in the country with 12 trips inside the 20 and 12 scores (10 TDs, 2 FGs). Scoring output has skyrocketed from 26.8 PPG last year to 37.2 PPG this season, along with about a two minute decrease in time of possession per game. These early results indicate that Will Hall’s shift to a quicker paced, more open offense has paid dividends.   

The passing game has been good enough to get the Wave to a 4-1 record, but not without its flaws. Justin McMillan has had great and not-so-great moments in 2019. His 132.3 passer rating puts him at 79th in the FBS. His 54.7% completion percentage is also decent…. but not great. We’ve seen great moments from him: Week 1 vs FIU, the long throws to Jalen McCleskey vs Houston, and Week 6 vs Army. But we’ve also seen some bad moments from him: Week 2 vs Auburn and the first half vs Houston. He still has the trust of the coaching staff, his teammates, and Greenies alike, but with games vs UCF, Temple, Memphis, and SMU looming on the horizon, his consistency in the passing game will be a key factor.  

The Defense Might be Better than the Numbers Say  

Key Defensive Team Statistics (FBS Only): 

  • 44th in Total Defense  

  • 68th in Rushing Defense 

  • 26th in Passing Yards Allowed 

  • 43rd in Scoring Defense 

  • 94th in 3rd Down Conversion Rate 

With all due respect to mathematics, I believe that the stats do not tell the complete story for the Wave defense. Apart from an atrocious first half vs Houston and a couple of lackluster moments against Army, the Wave defense has performed very well. Giving up 193 rushing yards to the Black Knights may not seem like an accomplishment, but when you realize that they average 273.4 rushing yards per game (8th in FBS), it suddenly turns into a positive. Additionally, the Wave D managed that without standout DT Jeffrey Johnson.  

A brilliant performance, possibly the best defensive showing of the year considering the quality of opponent, that must be mentioned is Week 2 vs Auburn. Although it was a losing effort, the Wave defense kept the game within reach against a top-10 team until about the end of the third quarter. The only team to hold Auburn to less points than Tulane is #7 Florida.  

Perhaps the most revealing game was Week 5 vs Houston, where we saw the good, the bad, and the ugly from the Wave D. At halftime, the defense had given up 373 total yards, 28 points, and 16 first downs. D’Eriq King, Marquez Stevenson, and Kyle Porter moved the ball at will with no veritable end in sight. In the second half, the Cougars were shut down on all fronts. All they had to show for their effort in the second half was three points and 160 yards of total offense.  

Without a crucial stand with less than minute left in the game where the ball made it to the Wave 4, we likely don’t experience the euphoria that was the McCleskey Miracle. Credit to DC Jack Curtis for making the proper adjustments in a timely manner, but if we replicate that first half performance vs Houston later in the season against Memphis or SMU, I am not sure how likely it is we will get bailed out by a last-second Hail Mary again.  

My Mid-Season Awards  

Mid-season Offensive MVP: RB Amare Jones 

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, Amare Jones is the Greenie version of Alvin Kamara. It’s as simple as that. If you think about overall impact over the course of the season, Amare Jones is a no brainer. He has 5 TDs through five games, is tied for the most receptions on the team, averages 7.2 YPC, and has made an impact in the return game.   

Mid-season Defensive MVP: S Chase Kuerschen 

It’s hard to pick out a single player from the Tulane defense, but if I had to pick one player that stood out to me, it’s Chase Kuerschen. The junior safety from Knoxville, TN is enjoying a good start to the 2019 season, he leads the team with 25 total tackles and has one interception.  

Taking all of the good and the bad into account, every Greenie out there should be ecstatic with the Wave thus far. I caution from concluding too much from a sample size of only five games, but here is what we know for certain about the 2019 Green Wave: 

  • This offense can run on anyone they want to. The three-headed monster of Bradwell, Dauphine, and Jones plus this stellar offensive line unit will dominate 95% of teams they face. McMillan establishing himself as a threat on read options (see 2nd half vs Houston) only opens up the rushing attack even more.  

  • The peak of this team will be determined by how well Justin McMillan plays. It was lacking against Auburn and they were able to stack the box against our run game. He wasn’t very good vs Houston save for a handful of long shots. When he is on his game, I genuinely believe that no team in the American can beat us.  

  • If Jeffrey Johnson, Cam Sample, and Patrick Johnson can stay healthy all season long, our defensive line will terrorize opposing offensive linemen. Houston had their only success on the ground in the 2nd half when Jeffrey Johnson left the game due to injury, he is especially crucial to the success of our rushing defense. 

  • Will Hall has proven that he deserved his pre-season hype, and then some. His play-calling has been dynamic, innovative, and situationally appropriate.  

  • This team has character. You don’t face a 28-7 deficit in the first half and mount a monumental comeback without being mentally strong. This is an important trait for successful teams and is a sign that the culture around the program is flourishing. Credit HC Willie Fritz for changing the perception around Tulane.  

Barring a Buster Douglas-esque performance from 34.5-point underdogs [REDACTED] on Saturday, the Green Wave should improve to 5-1 this weekend with a direct route to the AAC West crown down the stretch. Enjoy it, live it, love it, my fellow Greenies. You’re watching history being made in Uptown New Orleans.