Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pre-Season Preview: Tulane Green Wave

2009 Record: 3-9 (1-7 in C-USA)
2009 Bowl: N/A
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Bob Toledo (9-27 at Tulane, 87-95 Overall)
Non-Conference Schedule: Southeastern Louisiana (9/4), Ole Miss (9/11), @ Rutgers (10/2), Army (10/9)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 16.1 points per game (last in C-USA, 115th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 105 (last in C-USA, 105th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 207 (9th in C-USA, 118th in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 313 (11th in C-USA, 105th in Nation) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 36.7 points per game (11th in C-USA, 115th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 207 (11th in C-USA, 110th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 214 (1st in C-USA)
Total Yards/Game: 422 (7th in C-USA, 102nd in Nation)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: -1.33 per game (last in C-USA)
Penalties: 41 yards per game (3rd in C-USA)

Returning Starters
Offense: 8
Defense: 4
Kicker/Punter: 0

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Ryan Griffin, Soph (141 of 222 for 1382 yds, 9 TD, 6 INT, 153 ypg)
Passing: QB Joe Kemp, Jr (84 of 130 for 1038 yds, 6 TD, 4 INT, 129 ypg)
Rushing: RB Payten Jason, Soph (19 carries for 85 yds)
Receiving: WR Casey Robottom, Sr (50 rec, 584 yds, 1 TD, 4.2 rec/game)
Receiving: WR Todd Lee, Jr (28 rec, 280 yds, 1 TD, 2.3 rec/game)
Tackles: CB Alex Wacha, Sr (77)
Sacks: DE Logan Kelley, Sr (4)
Interceptions: CB Phillip Davis, Sr (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Lindy's: Not Ranked
Mark Schlabach: Not Ranked
Rivals: Not Ranked
Scout: Not Ranked
Sporting News: Not Ranked in Top 100
Sports Illustrated: Not Ranked
Athlon Sports: #116

2010 Pre-Season C-USA Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #6 in C-USA West

For the last two years Tulane has only won 1 Conference game. Tulane's last winning season was in 2002 when they went 8-5 and scored victories over Houston, Cincinnati, Navy, Southern Miss and Hawaii. Bob Toledo inherited a 4-8 team and has gone 4-8, 2-10 and 3-9. Tulane struggled mightily on offense and defense last year (although they strangely posted the best passing defense in the Conference). In order to find out more about Tulane football we sought out the Tulane Hullabaloo and their Sports Editor Ryan Jones. Ryan gives us a look inside of the Tulane football team.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

As a team that at times found itself ranked in the bottom ten nationally last year, it’s clear Tulane has many different areas that could use shoring up. Two major areas of concern were a poor red zone offense and an anemic ground attack, components that the Green Wave will need to ameliorate if the team expects to improve upon its 3-9 record last season.

During their 2009 campaign, the Wave scored only 75 percent of the time in 32 red zone attempts, good for 101st in the nation. Green Wave Head Coach Bob Toledo recently told me that though the team has avoided goal line contact drills to prevent injuries, red zone offense was a point of emphasis during spring training, and he projects it to be much improved this season. After losing the team’s two leading offensive weapons — wide receiver Jeremy Williams and running back Andre Anderson — to the NFL, however, it remains to be seen how much the offense will grow under the leadership of inexperienced redshirt sophomore quarterback Ryan Griffin.

The running game, led by 2009 preseason Doak Walker Award watch list candidate Anderson, failed to live up to lofty expectations last year, ranking last in Conference USA. After utilizing one workhorse tailback for the duration of his Tulane tenure, Toledo will now turn to a running back-by-committee approach, currently let by junior Albert Williams, junior J.T. McDonald and sophomore Stephen Barnett. Williams was limited in the final scrimmage due to a turf toe injury but enjoyed the most successful spring session of the trio, though all three backs have impressed.

As always, the success of Tulane’s rushing attack will depend on the success of their offensive line. Toledo has recruited an abundance of size, but the line has a history of struggles against speedy defensive fronts, an issue in a speed-driven conference.

Though Griffin is lacking in experience, he certainly won’t be lacking in receiving targets next year. Despite the loss of Senior Bowl MVP Williams, Toledo believes that this years’ squad features excellent wide receiver depth, led by returning starter Casey Robottom, who missed much of spring training with a separated shoulder. Behind him is athletically gifted sophomore D.J. Banks, who hopes to rebound from a conspicuously quiet freshman season after much was made of his explosive ability coming out of high school. Sophomore Devin Figaro and senior Allen Mitchell have engaged in one of the most intense position battles of spring training for the remaining slot.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

Tulane opens the regular season in a theoretical warm-up game against in-state opponent Southeastern Louisiana, but their nationally televised contest against Ole Miss in week two will be looming large. Ole Miss replaces LSU as the premier game on the Green Wave’s schedule this year, and though the Wave have a history of sometimes playing up to their SEC competition, it may just be looking to keep the score respectable and avoid discouraging fans’ outlooks for the remainder of the season. The Rebels defeated the Tigers last season, a team who in turn beat Tulane 42-0 last year.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

Though the most-feared opponent from a competition standpoint would probably be Ole Miss, Tulane’s week five Homecoming matchup against Army is much more important from a morale standpoint. The Green Wave could be in the midst of a three-game losing streak coming into the match, and after being embarrassed in their past two homecoming games. Fan attendance has not been strong in the past few seasons, but an unsuccessful string of games combined with another Homecoming defeat could spell trouble not only for the four-game home stretch near the end of the season but for Toledo’s career at Tulane. The Wave defeated Army in a 17-16 thriller last season, and a repeat performance is critical.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

Though as a whole it did not perform consistently last season, senior center Andrew Nierman has been a solid rock on the Green Wave offensive line for the past three years, starting in all 35 games he has played and garnering Honorable Mention All-C-USA honors last season.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

Senior wideout Casey Robottom was consistently overshadowed by Williams last season but still reeled in 50 receptions for 584 yards and two touchdowns. Now the unquestioned No. 1 wide receiver, he could be poised for a breakout season depending on Tulane’s quarterback play.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

With only four defensive starters returning, there will be opportunities for many different players to shine this season. The most impactful returning starter, however, is sophomore free safety Shakiel Smith. Smith started all 12 games as a true freshman last season and is the returning team leader tackles-for-loss, second in tackles.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach its full potential?

Without question, that player is Griffin. He played with poise for a first-year starter behind an oft-porous offensive line in the latter half of last season, breaking former Green Wave great Shaun King’s freshman passing record. Though he does not have great physical tools, Griffin plays cool under pressure and brings a cerebral approach to the field. If he completely falls apart in the first half of the season, however, look for Toledo to give senior Kevin Moore an opportunity to prove himself once again. The 6-foot-5, 239-pound Moore is a more physically prototypical quarterback and has earned praise from the coaches throughout training camp.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Tulane has several promising running back signees coming to campus this fall, including three-star recruit Orleans Darkwa from Nashville, Tenn., but the player that has an opportunity to create the most immediate impact will be the winner of the kicker position battle that will soon ensue now that 2009 preseason All-American Ross Thevenot has vacated the spot. Redshirt freshman Ryan Rome has an immediate advantage in the competition after performing consistently in spring training, but he faces competition from two incoming freshman kickers, including Carlos Santos, who was ranked as the No. 57 in the country by ESPN.com.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Trent Mackey sat out last season after transferring from Duke, but in Mackey’s first spring session with the team, he has immediately made an impact for a team thin at the linebacker position. Noted for his vocal leadership on the field, the 5-11, 220-pound Mackey may not have ideal linebacker size, but he gives the Green Wave defense some much-needed speed and attitude.

Tulane has not enjoyed a winning season since 2002 and Coach Bob Toledo has gone 9-27 in his first three years on the job. What is the general feeling around campus about Toledo and the job he's done and what does he need to do better to turn Tulane football around?

Toledo is generally well-liked around Tulane’s campus, but after three consecutive losing seasons, fan patience is certainly running thin. He has consistently recruited well, and now three years into his tenure, it is essentially Toledo’s team. Unfortunately, these recruits have not translated into success for the Green Wave. He has attempted to buck the C-USA trend, utilizing size and a more conservative offensive approach to limited success. This season, the lack of a true fullback has forced Toledo to use a more vertical offensive approach, though he and Offensive Coordinator Dan Dodd would not call it a true spread offense. Wave fans understand that he is in a difficult situation, but if Tulane continues their losing ways this season, Toledo’s job may be in jeopardy.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

I believe the team will go 4-8 this season, though five wins is definitely a realistic possibility. Bowl chances seem very dim this year, but the 2010 season will still be viewed as successful if the Wave can win all the games they’re supposed to win — including Homecoming — and pick up an upset win against Rutgers, Ole Miss or a C-USA Championship contender such as Houston.

Next Up: Buffalo Bulls

2010 Previews
Big East- Cincinnati Bearcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, West Virginia Mountaineers
Big Ten- Michigan WolverinesMinnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers
Conference USA- Houston Cougars, UTEP Miners
MAC- Temple Owls
Mountain West- Utah Utes
Pac-10- Oregon Ducks, USC Trojans, Washington Huskies
Sun Belt- Troy Trojans


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