Let’s Talk Football – Tulane Spring Edition

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Willie Fritz
(Photo: Parker Waters)

Green Wave looks to build off of its memorable 2018 campaign

NEW ORLEANS – The Tulane football team’s 2018 campaign was a year for the ages, as the program won its fifth bowl game in program history, earned a share of the 2018 American Athletic Conference title and captured just its sixth winning season in the last 37 years.

On Tuesday, the Green Wave begun its march to build on the momentum of their memorable 2018 season with the start of spring football inside Yulman Stadium.

With the return of five starters on offense, eight on defense and three special teams, Tulane enters the spring under the direction of fourth-year head coach Willie Fritz with the tools to make the 2019 campaign even more impressive than 2018.

In addition to its 13 returning starters, the Green Wave have numerous reserves that have seen significant action and have proven that they are ready to step up into starting roles.

Tulane’s defensive unit established itself in 2018 as one the nation’s most aggressive units, as it led The American and ranked eighth nationally with 41 sacks.

The Green Wave returns each of their starting defensive lineman in the form of junior Patrick Johnson, junior Cameron Sample, sophomore Jeffery Johnson and redshirt junior De’Andre Williams, as they combined for 157 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks.

Johnson headlines the Green Wave’s returning front four after an incredible sophomore season where he earned Second Team All-AAC honors and led the way for the Green Wave with 10.5 sacks. His 10.5 sacks ranked second in The American and 12th in the FBS. Johnson also became just the third player in school history to post 10-or-more sacks in a single season.

Tulane’s linebacker unit will face the difficult task of replacing departed senior 2018 leading tackler and All-AAC honoree Zachery Harris. The Green Wave will turn to junior Marvin Moody senior Lawrence Graham. Both Green Wave linebackers saw significant action a year ago, as they totaled 71 and 61 tackles, respectively.

The Green Wave secondary also has some holes to replace with the departure of All-AAC defensive backs Roderic Teamer, Jr. and Donnie Lewis, Jr.

The cupboard is in way bare as Tulane will turn to a trio of senior defensive backs in P.J. Hall, Will Harper and Thakarius Keyes to help fill the void. Hall, Harper and Keyes combined for 117 tackles, 22 pass breakups and three interceptions. The three returning seniors played a significant role in helping Tulane finish second in the nation in passes defended.

The good news about the Green Wave’s 2018 offensive unit was that Tulane rushed for 2,836 yards – the second-highest single season total in program history – but the news that is even better is that Tulane returns 95 percent of rushing offense from a year ago.

Led by senior running backs Darius Bradwell and Corey Dauphine, the Green Wave feature one of the nation’s most explosive rushing attacks. As a team, Tulane averaged over 200 yards per game on the ground (218.2) and ranked 23rd nationally. Bradwell and Dauphine carry the load of the returnees as the two combined for 1,919 yards and 18 touchdowns.

The Green Wave wide receivers unit will need to replace loss of departed seniors Terren Encalade and Jabril Clewis, but with the return of last year’s leading wide receiver in Darnell Mooney and the addition of Oklahoma State transfer Jalen McCleskey, the Green Wave should have the tools to continuing spreading the ball down the field. In 2018, Tulane ranked seventh nationally and second The American in passing yards per completion.

Justin McMillian returns under center at quarterback for the Green Wave after he guided Tulane to wins in five of the Green Wave’s final six games. McMillian’s journey to the starting position came after joining the team a week before the start of the season. He would eventually earn the starting nod at Tulsa after he made appearances against Ohio State, Memphis and Cincinnati.

He finished the year with 1,304 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, 238 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.

Southern Mississippi transfer Keon Howard could also figure into the mix at quarterback after sitting out the 2018 season. In two seasons at Southern Mississippi, Howard completed 118 of 220 passes for 1,564 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Paving the way for the Green Wave offensive unit will be returners Corey Dublin and Joey Claybrook both of whom return after playing significant action in 2018. Since stepping on campus in 2017, Dublin has been a mainstay at center for the Green Wave, as he has started in 25 consecutive games. The addition of Brown transfer Chris Mantano should help fill the losses of offensive lineman Dominque Briggs, John Leglue and Noah Fisher.

With the return of each of its specialists from a year ago, Tulane will look to build on last year’s special teams performance.

As a true freshman in 2018, Ryan Wright made a significant impact, as he averaged 44.0 yards per punt, which ranked No. 1 among all freshman in the NCAA and ranked third among all punters in The American.

Through seven games in 2018, Tulane stared down the very real possibility of missing the postseason as it went into the stretch run of the year with a 2-5 record.

The Green Wave would respond to the adversity in a big way, as it finished the regular season with an incredible 4-1 mark, posting wins over Tulsa, USF, East Carolina and Navy to earn a share of The American West Division title.

Tulane closed the year with a 41-24 win over Louisiana-Lafayette in the AutoNation Cure Bowl. Tulane held Louisiana-Lafayette to a season-low 258 yards of total offense. In the second quarter alone, Tulane held the Ragin’ Cajuns to just 27 yards. Louisiana-Lafayette entered the game averaging 437.1 yards per game.

Willie Fritz begins his fourth year (27th overall) as the Green Wave’s head coach. In each of his previous three seasons, Tulane has improved its win total every year, winning four games in 2016, five in 2017 and seven in 2018. However it is his record in league play which has been been most notable, as the Green Wave have gone from winning just one league game in his first season in 2016 to five games and a share of The American West Division title in 2018.

Six of the Green Wave’s 22 signees are already currently enrolled at Tulane and will participate in spring practice. Linebacker Nick Anderson, joker Darius Hodges, wide receiver Jalen McCleskey, offensive lineman Christian Montano, defensive back Kanyon Walker and linebacker Dorian Williams comprise this year’s early enrollees.

Fans can purchase 2019 football season tickets in non-premium sections by visiting TulaneTix.com or by calling (504) 861-WAVE (9283). Season ticket deposits for premium sections are also on sale. All deposits are $50 and are non-refundable.

Download the official mobile app of Tulane Athletics. Now, you can stay in touch with the Green Wave anytime and anywhere on your Android or iOS mobile device.

Follow Tulane football on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @GreenWaveFB. Fans also follow Tulane Athletics on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

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