With FIU on horizon, Tulane ‘ready to play somebody else’
NEW ORLEANS – After nearly a month of looking only at teammates across the line of scrimmage, it starts for real Thursday night for Willie Fritz and the Tulane Green Wave.
“Our guys are ready to play somebody else,” said Fritz, whose team meets FIU in its opener at Yulman Stadium. “I think everybody in college football is ready to get going.”
The Panthers and Green Wave each ended with bowl victories in 2018 – FIU in the Bahamas Bowl and Tulane in the Cure Bowl.
“Coach (Butch) Davis has done an excellent job at FIU,” Fritz said. “He has a great history as a football coach. I’ve got a respect for him. They’ve got 18 of the 22 starters returning. They’re a very veteran squad.”
Tulane returns 17 starters from last year’s 7-6 club, including senior quarterback Justin McMillan. The biggest change for the Green Wave is new offensive coordinator Will Hall.
“There has been a little bit of new (this preseason),” said Fritz. “It’s been a great camp.
“There’s three or four things I wanted to keep running, and he’s done a good job of combining that with what he’s run in the past. I think it’s made for a very diverse offense.”
Hall and McMillan have quickly built a great relationship, Fritz said.
“They talk probably four, five, six times a day,” said Fritz, who begins his fourth season Uptown. “Nowadays, you can watch tape anyplace. They don’t have to wait until meetings the next day.”
Despite the minimal changes in staff and personnel since last December, Fritz knows an opener – and staffs who have had almost nine months to work on new wrinkles – will bring surprises.
“We’ve got new things we’re going, and I’m sure they’ve got new things they’re doing,” Fritz said. “I think both teams understand that.”
This marks the fifth time in six seasons, and the second straight time at home, Tulane will open on the Thursday before Labor Day.
“I do like the Thursday (opener), getting the (following) weekend off, getting to exhale,” Fritz said, noting that the only negative has been when the home opener has conflicted with a Saints preseason game, as it does this year.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Thursday. The game will be televised on ESPN3.
Transcript from head coach Willie Fritz’s weekly news conference prior to the Green Wave’s matchup with FIU on Thursday (Aug. 29) at Yulman Stadium:
“Thanks to everyone for coming out today. We appreciate the coverage. We’re very, very excited about the opening game here at Tulane on Thursday night at seven ‘o clock playing Florida International. A bowl team last year. Won their bowl game. Coach (Butch) Davis has done an excellent job at FIU and has taken them to a couple consecutive bowl games. He’s got a great history as a head coach, both in the NFL and also in the college game at Miami and North Carolina and I’ve got a lot of respect for him. They’ve got a lot of starters coming back, 18 of 22 starters returning for them. And when you look at them in the special teams game, across the board they’ve had nine, 10, maybe 11 guys on their kickoff team and they have a very veteran squad. I think our guys are ready to play somebody else. It’s been a long preseason. We reported on July 30, with the first practice on July 31 and I think everybody right now in college football is ready to get going. With that I’ll open it up to any questions.”
On opening the season for the second consecutive year on a Thursday night:
“I do like it on Thursday because you get the weekend off and you get ready to go and it gives you a chance to exhale and relax a little bit. I do like the Thursday game. Unfortunately, the last couple of years the game date has become a bit of a conflict with the Saints with their last preseason game, because they don’t get to know their schedule by the time we set our schedule, but I’m excited about opening up on Thursday evening.”
On if there have been any differences in this year’s camp as opposed to previous seasons:
“Well the good has been the fact that our guys understand how we do things here. I’ve talked about it before, where our team meetings, or position meetings or unit meetings are going half the time as they did in our first year where I had to explain a lot of things. I also think it’s been exciting with the new offense and coach (Will) Hall has brought a lot of energy and excitement to the program along with Cody Kennedy, our offensive line coach. There have been a lot of new additions along with some of the veterans we have and a lot of things we’ve done in the past. But it has been a great camp.”
On tailoring practices based on specific needs during camp:
“We’ve changed things up a little bit based on what the coordinators are looking to do. I’ve been a coordinator myself and a head coach for a long time and I want to make sure those guys feel good with their preparation. So we’ll tweak practice to help them out offensively and defensively and also in the kicking game. Our staff’s been together for so long and everybody is very easy to work with and I think that’s an advantage going into year four.”
On the addition of offensive coordinator Will Hall and the players acclimating to his system:
“You know the thing I think Will has done a great job of is there were three or four things that I wanted us to continue to keep running here at Tulane and he’s done a good job of combining that with what he’s run in the past. He’s got a lot of head coaching experience, a lot of coordinator experience. When he was with Memphis he ran a very explosive offense up there. So he’s kind of picked the best things and added it with what we have done here and what I’d like to continue to keep doing. And I think it’s made for a very diverse offense.”
On the relationship between Will Hall and senior quarterback Justin McMillan:
“They’ve got a great relationship. He and Justin probably talk four, five, six, seven times a day. Nowadays you can watch tape anyplace, and maybe he’ll be at his apartment and they’re talking about something that was run during practice and they don’t have to wait until meetings the next day and they can go over things throughout the day.”
On being able to make adjustments in the game against FIU:
“I think both teams, especially in that first ballgame, both teams are going to have to make adjustments on the sidelines. It’s just the way it is. Offensively, defensively, kicking game. We’ve got new things that we’re doing and I’m sure they’ve got new things they’re doing. You want to make sure you have enough in your package where you can have multiple looks, but keep it simple so that when you see something totally different you can adjust to it. I think both teams understand that going into the first ballgame. It’s really easier to prepare for weeks six, seven and eight. The advantage you have week one is that we worked on FIU for 10 practices, rather than just four or five.”
On the health of the offensive line:
“We’re pretty darn healthy. KeyshawnMcLeod is going to start at right guard for us. That’s been a position that we’ve had a lot of competition in. A lot of guys are going to play. Christian Montano. I think Guerry(Smith) said this to me yesterday that I think every guy that we’ve got starting on offense and defense has started. Maybe not at Tulane, but someplace else. We’ve got a lot of guys coming back. After he said that I went upstairs and I looked that we’ve got 29 guys that have starting experience when you include the kickers, punters and snappers as well that have started at least one collegiate ballgame at the Division I level. So a lot of experience. Corey Dublin is going to be over at guard, and the two tackles Joey Claybrookand Tyler Johnson have played a lot of football for us as well. Ben Knutson will play a bunch his first ballgame both at guard and tackles. So we have a lot of guys who are going to see action on Thursday night.”
On if he sees any parallels between how he’s built the Tulane program and what Butch Davis has done at FIU:
“There’s probably some similarities. He’s got his hands all over the defense. Years and years ago I used to go watch the (Dallas) Cowboys practice when he was coaching there and you still see a few things they were doing back then with Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedtand Davis when they were all there together. There probably are some similarities in building a program.”
On FIU quarterback James Morgan:
“He just does a really good job of getting a pre-snap indicator of where he’s going to go with the football. It’s hard to sack him and he gets the ball out of there in a hurry. You’ve got to do an excellent job of having close coverage and competing for those balls. When he throws short balls, you’ve got to make sure they don’t turn into big gains. You tackle them for gains of three, then they’ll slip by you and turn them into 23 or 33-yarders. So they’ll get rid of the ball in a hurry.”
On the challenge of the early season schedule:
“I look at the schedule in the first team meeting and that’s the last time we really talk about it. But as I said when I came in here, we’re going to improve the opposition we play here at Tulane. We want to be a national program and in order to do that, you’ve got to play people. This is a great league and I want to invite everybody to come out here Thursday evening and watch a ballgame, because you’re going to be surprised at the level of play both on our team and in the opponents that come here to Yulman Stadium. So if you want to be a national program, you’ve got to play people.
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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…