Welcome back to our latest Q&A as part of our overall preview series of 2019 Cougar football opponents.
Earlier this week we previewed the Tulane Green Wave and what we think they'll look like in 2019. I'd encourage you to read it, if you have not done so already, along with the rest of this preview series.
To get an 'expert' voice on the Green Wave we brought in a longtime friend of the Pawdcast, JP Gooderham of Fear the Wave to answer 5 good questions.
Q: What does the new Will Hall-coordinated Tulane offense look like, as compared to what we've seen in the past 3 years?
JG: Will Hall is one of the big question marks of this season (and a good question, at that). He's the new Offensive Coordinator who joined from Memphis's staff, and by all accounts, he's a hitter. I definitely expect him to be a Head Coach in his career, and that could come sooner rather than later.
The most surprising thing in the Fritz era, to me, given his history has been inconsistency on offense. While the Wave has ranked well in explosiveness (driven by a number of playmakers who could do damage in open space), the Wave has not moved the ball well. Good defense has made up for that, but it's clear that the Fritz machine hasn't reached all systems go yet.
In comes Will Hall. He joined our podcast, and I walked away feeling pretty stoked about our potential this year, especially given the players he has access to like running backs Darius Bradwell, Corey Dauphine, Stephon Huderson, and Amare Jones. He is preaching that he wants to move Tulane to an up-tempo (at least relative to the more plodding, run-focused pace in the past) as well as invest in the passing game. That's good timing too with a returning starter in Justin McMillan as well as an impact transfer in Oklahoma State record setter Jalen McCleskey.
The high level: we're going to see something different, and you have to give Fritz a lot of credit for being willing to shake things up despite his long history as an option-focused offense.
Q: Who ends up winning the starting quarterback job and why? Do you foresee any uncertainty at the position during the season, like last year?
JG: I expect Justin McMillan, for sure. His finish last year to bring the Wave back to bowl season as well as clinching a bowl win for the first time since 2002 certainly raised his stock. Southern Miss transfer Keon Howard - a fellow left handed QB - has starting experience for the Mustard Buzzards but I still think the job is McMillan's going into camp.
That said, things can change, and the lack of QB depth has been a big challenge for the Wave recently. It's a big perk going in with more experience on that depth chart, for sure.
Q: The Tulane defense graduated 3 all-conference players, what kind of impact will that have and who are the players that will be asked to replace those guys?
JG: Tulane is definitely losing some names. DB Donnie Lewis was drafted by the Browns. High-energy safety Rod Teamer is following a great college career with making some noise in the Chargers' camps.
With that said, there's a lot to be excited about for Tulane's defense. Patrick Johnson has been projected as the AAC Defensive Player of the Year, and he's shown himself to be an absolute monster off the edge. He's the top returning player in sacks from 2018. The Defensive Line returns other standouts include Cam Sample and rising sophomore Jeffery Johnson. For that reason, the Wave has garnered buzz as one of the country's top 10 DLs this year.
Q: What is a fair expectation for Willie Fritz and his staff in year 4, coming off the heels of a bowl appearance (and win)?
JG: 2018 was a wild ride, in which a bowl berth was certainly not guaranteed (and took a two-point conversion against Navy in the final minute to actually accomplish). That said, Coach Fritz has proved the concept of his program. The challenge will be doing it again.
Vegas predicts the Wave's over/under on wins at 5.5. If you talk to a Tulane fan, you'll hear that their expectation will be another trip to bowl season. The schedule will be tougher, including an opening game against a very scrappy FIU under Butch Davis, a road trip to Auburn, and another road bout with Army coming off a big year.
With that in mind, I think becoming the first Wave coach to go to back-to-back bowl games since Tommy Bowden is undoubtedly a mark of a successful year. What's a more interesting question to me is whether Coach Fritz and company can go beyond that and seriously contend for the AAC West this season. While few are predicting that, I will see that the makeup of this team from a talent and coaching standpoint checks more boxes than Tulane has had in quite a while.
Q: Who are the surprise player or players (max of 3 let's say) on this team and why?
JG: Next "under the radar" Tulane DB you should know about: Thakarius Keyes.
Guy on the Defensive Line you should know about, other than Patrick Johnson: Cam Sample can have a big year. He was on the way to earning AAC honors on his own before an injury late. With a healthy run, he's going to be a threat as well.
What about the offense, guy? Running back Darius Bradwell. Man, there are some top notch backs for the Wave. Bradwell is very complete, and he ended the year with a beat down performance against the Ragin Cajuns of ULL. I am very excited to see what he can do this year with Will Hall.