Tulane close to success but suffering continues
I will begin by stating what I have said for quite some time now. Willie Fritz is a good coach. He is close to winning at Tulane but stop me here if you have heard that before.
In 2013, Tulane was bowl eligible, went to the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and finished 7-6 under Curtis Johnson.
Had the Green Wave gotten one of two calls Saturday in Dallas in the crushing 41-38 loss to SMU, the Green Wave would have been 6-6 and been bowl eligible under Fritz.
On the first call, Rae Juan Marbley clearly appeared to force a fumble which Rod Teamer returned for a touchdown. On the second, Jonathan Banks appeared to score on the final play of game but in both cases, the call on the field went against Tulane and those reviewing either did not have the guts or the judgment to overturn the calls.
It should not have come down to the call which went against Tulane at the end.
Just prior to the fateful play, Jonathan Banks missed a wide open Darnell Mooney for an easy touchdown. Mooney had a breakout game, catching six passes for 168 yards and a touchdown. Along with the consistent Terren Encalade, Mooney gives Tulane a pair of solid receivers. Encalade had seven catches for 111 yards.
Another encouraging performance was turned in by Darius Bradwell, who rushed nine times for 80 yards and two scores.
Banks made a fateful decision to run the ball at the end, knowing his team had no timeouts remaining. If you make that decision, you have to be certain that you will score. The end result was too close to call, too close for comfort.
Even if Tulane would have gone for the win on the next play as Fritz stated he would, rather than a game-tying field goal, you had to allow for one more chance.
Still, when you run five plays inside the opponent’s five-yard line and do not score, you cannot expect to win or deserve to win. Perhaps Tulane could have run it from the two-yard line initially when the Green Wave still had a timeout at their disposal.
Still, give Banks lots of credit.
He was brilliant in the win over Houston and he was outstanding again against SMU, completing 18-of-31 passes for a career-high 314 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 19 times for 48 yards. The 18 completions were a career best as well. It is comforting and encouraging to know he returns next year. His play was a huge step up from the woeful quarterback play of 2016 for the Green Wave, particularly when he was healthy.
For the second straight year, Tulane lost a shootout to SMU. It hurts. It will linger.
There is hope moving forward.
Offensively, Banks returns, Bradwell has the talent to be a feature back. Encalade and Mooney return. The entire starting offensive line returns. Defensively, Cameron Sample and Chase Kuerschen are good building blocks. Teamer is a good player and he is back, along with Donnie Lewis and Zachery Harris.
The kicking game must become more consistent but the same is true with the offense and defense.
It is ironic that the 2017 New Orleans Saints have gotten breaks and gotten calls. The Saints are 8-2, in the midst of an eight-game win streak.
The Green Wave got no calls Saturday. Struggling teams seldom seem to get any breaks.
Fritz took the high road afterwards, not blasting the calls that went against his team but lamenting the near misses, how close his team had come, while praising his 12 seniors. It was pure class.
To become a winner, Fritz needs better players and more of them. When you are good, the breaks will go your way. Even if they do not, you will be good enough to win some of those, anyway.
In my lifetime, I watched Jim Pittman go 3-7 in 1969 which included losses by four points at Boston College, one point at Florida and three points against Vanderbilt before breaking through with an 8-4 season in 1970, culminating with a 17-3 Liberty Bowl upset win over Colorado.
Larry Smith coached a 4-7 team in 1978 which lost by three points at Stanford, by six points to TCU and by 10 at Ole Miss before breaking through with a 9-3 team in 1979, culminating with a Liberty Bowl appearance against Penn State.
In 1986, Mack Brown went 4-7, losing by one point to Wichita State and by seven to Mississippi State before breaking through with a 6-6 mark in 1987, culminating with an Independence Bowl appearance.
In 1996, Tulane was a dismal 2-9 under Buddy Teevens, losing by seven points to Rice and Memphis and losing by three points to Louisville, Southern Miss and Houston. Tommy Bowden arrived and, with many of the same players, went 7-4 in 1997 before the unbeaten 12-0 season in 1998, culminating with a Liberty Bowl victory over BYU.
In 2012, Johnson’s Green Wave were a dismal 2-10, falling by four points at UTEP, by two points to Rice and by five to East Carolina before going 7-6, culminating with the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl appearance in 2013 as mentioned.
Winning remains elusive for Tulane football. This season, Tulane lost by two points at Navy, by one point to Cincinnati and by three at SMU. There is a pattern. This team is close. History could repeat itself.
Fritz and his program are close to winning as early as next year, with a few more good players and few breaks. It is about time for both to end the suffering.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…