Fritz looking for increased offensive output
Quarterbacks will be on display Saturday at Tulane Spring Football Game
Tulane head coach Willie Fritz had to hit the ground running when he took over the Green Wave’s football program a year ago. He inherited a 3-9 team and needed to find an identity after a new offensive scheme was adopted and its sophomore quarterback with two years of starting experienced transferred. But the coach, with 193 wins under his belt and a reputation for turning troubled programs around, was confident he and his staff could make improvements.
The Green Wave went 4-8 in 2016, with an unbalanced attack that saw Tulane average twice as much yardage on the ground than in the air – 228.1 yards rushing compared to 113.3 yards passing per game.
Quarterbacks Glen Cuiellette and Johnathan Brantley earned the majority of time under center last year, but neither seemed to get the Wave jumpstarted. So Fritz brought in junior college transfer Jonathan Banks, who started his career at Kansas State, to compete for the starting job this year.
Fans can get a look at the Green Wave before summer break at the 2017 Tulane Football Spring Game at Yulman Stadium on Saturday, April 22, at 10 a.m.
“Offensively, we got to get better quarterback play. That’s not a secret,” Fritz said this week in a Sports Illustrated Q&A.
Fritz runs a multiple-option offensive scheme that depends on a running quarterback. But once the run game is established, it draws the defense in and opens opportunities for big passing plays.
“Some of the guys (last season were) probably a little more adept at throwing than running. I wanted to bring somebody in and run this type of offense.”
At the beginning of spring football practice, Fritz told The New Orleans Advocate, “The beauty of the option is, you get a lot of man-to-man coverage and people's eyes wander and they start looking back in the backfield,” he said. “If you get a little play-action that's halfway decent, you are going to have some receivers wide-open. We're starting to get that a little bit.”
On defense, Tulane showed great strides, jumping from 80th to 31st nationally in yards allowed per game. They will need to replace the team’s emotional leader linebacker Nico Marley, an undersized four-year starter who may land on an NFL roster this spring.
In the SI Q&A, Fritz compared Tulane’s and Northwestern University’s situation as urban-based private schools with high-dollar tuitions competing against public schools in traditional college towns with much lower rates. He said due to the expense, their challenges include a limited number of walk-ons and the resulting lack of depth for practice. He said he learned a lot from watching the Chicago school on looking for and recruiting certain types of athletes and how to use available players for practice.
As for the quarterback that transferred, he’s doing just fine. Last weekend, Tanner Lee, who started 19 games at Tulane, was named the starting quarterback at Nebraska. While he had to sit out last season, he was able to practice with the Cornhuskers and took advantage of his time leading the scout team against the first-string defense.
Lee has a lot of things going for him, including arm strength, a quick release, his experience, and age, 22. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds he has the prototypical size of an NFL quarterback. Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald says Nebraska head coach Mike Riley likes his magnetic personality and leadership qualities. Now, he has to prove himself in the Big Ten. At the Power Five conference level, Lee will face bigger and stronger opponents than he saw at Tulane. His decision-making and accuracy will be challenged. If he finds success, the New Orleans native and former Jesuit Blue Jay may end up eventually hearing his name among potential draftees.