Despite the 2018 bowl game win, a great achievement for Willie Fritz and his coaching staff, the Tulane Football team was held together by the strength of its defense. In 2018, Tulane's offense ranked eighth, out of twelve teams in the American Athletic Conference, in total yards and ninth in scoring. These disappointing offensive numbers have stayed relatively stable in the three years Fritz has been head coach.
Throughout the 2018 season, it often felt as though the offense was stalling. For long periods of time, running backs couldn't get passed the line of scrimmage, receivers wouldn't catch the ball, or the quarterback would constantly get sacked. Every game seemed to fall upon the stellar play of the Green Wave's defense. Considering the number of weapons on the offensive side of the ball, this fact is rather puzzling. With a talented core of receivers (including proven, veteran playmakers Terren Encalade and Darnell Mooney), a tightly-knit, experienced offensive line, four extremely explosive running backs (Corey Dauphine, Darius Bradwell, Amare Jones, and Stephon Huderson), and two capable quarterbacks in Johnathon Banks and LSU transfer Justin McMillan, fans rightly expected a high scoring season.
However, this was not the case. Despite a few randomly explosive plays, the offense was stale during most of the season. The play calling by offensive coordinator Doug Ruse was basic and predictable. While Tulane could beat mediocre teams due to their talent and relentless play, capable, well-coached teams were able to pick apart the Wave's offense.
Watching a talented offense be crippled by its own play calling is frustrating to say the least. Fans were justifiably upset watching an offense that seemed to be fighting against itself.
To remedy this issue, Fritz made the tough decision to fire offensive coordinator, and long time colleague, Doug Ruse. In his place, Fritz hired Will Hall, 2018 associate head coach and tight ends coach at the University of Memphis.
Following this hire, Fritz signed Oklahoma State University transfer wide receiver Jalen McCleskey, a reliable playmaker. McCleskey has the opportunity to have a big season for the wave in 2019, adding to the already talented receiver core. In addition to this, Fritz was able to sign transfer offensive lineman Christian Montano. An extraordinarily large human being, Montano will be able to protect McMillan in pass coverage and provide clear holes for Tulane's running backs.
Fritz is moving Tulane in the right direction. While he has seen some success with Ruse in the past, Fritz recognized he was not giving to the offense the explosion it needed.
In 2019, Tulane's offense will keep the players that made it so dangerous in the first place. Starting quarterback Justin McMillan will be returning for his final year of eligibility, Darnell Mooney will be returning to play alongside Jalen McCleskey, and all four of those experienced running backs will be back this season.
With the addition of transfers such McCleskey and Montano, as well as an offensive system that, hopefully, won't constrict its players, Green Wave fans can expect to see an offense that is consistently explosive.
2019 will be a big year for Fritz and his team. For the first time in decades, Tulane has the chance to become a big name in college football. With an exciting offense backing up a stout defense, Tulane could make an impactful statement in the 2019 season.
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Photo provided by Tulane Athetic Dept.