***** NCAA Football Preview - Tulane Green Wave *****
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: Tulane had a bumpy ride in 2011 as it experienced a
mid-year coaching change amid a lousy start which only worsened as the season
progressed, as the Green Wave finished with a 2-11 overall record.
Coach Bob Toledo started his fifth season at Tulane by leading his team to a
victory over SE Louisiana (47-33) at home. The Green Wave were buried by Tulsa
(31-3) the next time they took the field, but looked to have fixed the issues
in their impressive rout of UAB (49-10) on the road.
Tulane lost its next six games though, before Toledo's forced resignation.
Interim head coach Mark Hutson was unable to lead the program to a victory in
the remaining three games. Aside from its close battle with Syracuse (37-34),
Tulane lost by double-digit margins in every game of its losing streak, which
included league bouts with Houston (73-17) and Texas-El Paso (44-7).
New Orleans native Curtis Johnson was hired in the off-season to take the
reigns of the program with the goal of returning it to its first bowl game
since 2002. Johnson spent the past six seasons as a wide receivers coach for
the New Orleans Saints. However, Johnson has his work cut out for him, as the
program now heads into 2012 with a nine-game losing streak in tow.
OFFENSE: Tulane's offense, which was 105th in scoring offense (21.1 ppg) last
year, has been transformed by its new coaching staff into a pro-style offense.
Newly added offensive coordinator Eric Price has an experienced leader to rely
upon in senior QB Ryan Griffin. The Green Wave's signal-caller has 30 career
starts under his belt and finished last season with decent numbers (2,502
yards, 13 TDs, 10 INTs). Redshirt freshman Leon Blouin IV is next in line
The Green Wave's offense will be more dangerous with a healthy Orleans Darkwa
returning to the backfield. The junior tailback was third in the C-USA last
seasons in rushing yards per game (71.1) and contributed three 100-yard games
despite battling injuries consistently. Sophomores Dante Butler and Robert
Kelley are alternative options at halfback and should see some time in the new
system which utilizes the running backs in the passing game more. The
rebuilding process will bring some of Tulane's younger and less known players
to the surface quickly.
"The young guys really want to play and Coach CJ has talked about this isn't
going to be a redshirt program, " said Darkwa. "So these freshmen are working
hard to learn what they have to do to get on the field."
The WR trio of Wilson Van Hooser, Justyn Shackelford, and Xavier Rush stayed
intact. Van Hooser's team-highs of 487 yards and four touchdown catches could
grow with Ryan Grant back in the lineup to demand the attention of opposing
safeties. Grant missed all of 2011 after sustaining a season-ending injury in
the season opener versus SE Louisiana.
The offensive line returns only two starters, but the blocking could see
improvement in the new offensive system.
DEFENSE: Tulane's defense allowed nearly more points (37.5 per game) than any
other team in the NCAA in 2011. Jon Sumrall and Lionel Washington have
implemented changes as the new joint defensive coordinators.
Linebacker Trent Mackey (145 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) will be
at the center of the new system after an All-Conference-USA First-Team
performance last season. Mackey's selection as the Conference USA Preseason
Defensive Player of the Year has built high expectations around the senior.
Darryl Farley and Matthew Bailey will start alongside Mackey.
The defensive line is inexperienced and lacks depth. Austen Jacks (6-3, 247) is
the only returning starter from last season's defensive front. Julius Warmsley
(6-2, 281), Kenny Welcome (6-2, 295), and Corey Redwine (6-1, 304) are far from
seasoned veterans, but they will provide great size up front for the revamped
defensive unit. Senior CB Ryan Travis led the team in interceptions (four) in
2011 and will be a key player in the secondary once again. Safety Shakiel Smith
also provides experience and has a good nose for the ball. Kyle Davis is
expected to start at free safety in his first season at the position since
making the move from wide receiver. True freshman Jordan Batiste (5-9, 170) is
slotted to start at cornerback opposite of Travis.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Tulane returns both aspects of its kicking game with Cairo
Santos and Jonathan Ginsburgh back. Last season, Santos made 11-of-18 field
goal attempts and 33-of-34 PATs while Ginsburgh averaged 41.7 yards per punt.
Derrick Strozier and Robert Kelley are the top options for Tulane's new special
teams coordinator Barry Lamb in the return game.
OUTLOOK: The Green Wave are returning a strong portion of their talent from
2011's team that disappointed fans with a sixth-place finish in Conference
USA's West Division. A new coaching staff and system is a start, but the
likelihood of Tulane experiencing an immediate turnaround is not great.
"Coming off whatever the record was last year and what we did, we should be
picked last, "said Johnson about his team's last place projection for 2011.
"The thing is, that's why I love predictions. All it is a prediction. I
predicted sunshine and blue skies all day today and we got a monsoon. I love
the challenge of being picked last because what we do now is play with a chip
on our shoulder. We have something legitimate to prove. They've got to prove
it to themselves and they've got to prove it to us."
Johnson's first trek as head coach will begin with a non-conference schedule
that contains Rutgers, Ole Miss, ULM, and Louisiana. The Green Wave will have
homefield advantage in 7 of their 12 games and do not have to face the tougher
programs of the East Division during the regular season. Tulane has a trip to
Houston looming on November 24 for a difficult regular-season finale though.
The Green Wave's roster has potential and strong performers in certain areas,
but the team overall has a far way to go before it will be competing for the
league's crown. Johnson and his new staff will immediately increase the team's
win total, but probably not to a number big enough to warrant a bowl game
08/20 10:41:37 ET