This week, we linked up with Jared Miller of Underdog Dynasty for a little Q&A about Navy’s match-up at Tulane. The folks at UD cover all things in Group of Five football. He answered some of my questions below, and we will link our answers to his questions when they post it.
AAE: Tulane escaped their Week One match-up with a thrilling comeback victory behind the arm of new starting QB Keon Howard. That’s a nice coming out party for the transfer. How do you think he fits into Willie Fritz’s spread option attack so far? Do you feel better about his running ability or his arm?
This, I think, is the million dollar question Tulane fans have wanted an answer to since Howard was named the starter this off-season: is he going to fit into Fritz’s system the way Justin McMillan did? Speaking purely of the triple option and run-heavy approach Fritz has been known to install, Howard is a guy that definitely has the potential to be a good fit in that scheme. He is no stranger to carrying the ball when needed. In his two seasons at Southern Miss, Howard toted the ball 98 times and did so eight times last Saturday for Tulane as well. His yardage numbers don’t necessarily pop off the page the way McMillan’s did however his sheer number of career carries tells me he works well in a run-style offense.
Personally, though, I would put more faith in his throwing abilities right now for two reasons: he has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards in his collegiate career and Green Wave offensive coordinator Will Hall is not quite as run focused as Fritz himself is. Hall has added interesting wrinkles into the offense since he came over in 2019 so I would bank on Howard seeing much more success through the air than on the ground.
AAE: Did Tulane’s game with South Alabama make you excited or worried for this season and why?
Simply put, both. I saw some really positive things from both the offense and the defense as far as “crunch time” football go. When the team had their backs against the wall of a 24-6 deficit, everyone did their job to claw back and secure the win. Those sorts of rallies only help a team’s confidence and will undoubtedly make this group believe they can come back from any hole they find themselves in.
Little things I saw in the game that make me optimistic for the upcoming season include the fact that Tulane only turned the ball over once, losing a fumble and that the team’s penalties seemed to be down (only five against USA, which is saying something for the Wave).
What concerns me, though, is the fact that they fell behind by such a large margin to begin with. They trailed the Jaguars by 18 points (a team they were favored to beat by 10) and it was due to a few factors. Tulane was only able to muster up a measly 1-for-11 on third down while allowing South Alabama a third down conversion rate of 8-for-17. Those numbers usually aren’t going to get it done and the team cannot rely on late game heroics to save them week in and week out.
AAE: This will be the fifth time Fritz has led Tulane against Navy. He appeared to crack the code for slowing down the triple option and keeping the Mids below their season average for rushing yards in his first three match-ups, culminating in a great win for Tulane in 2018. Last year, Navy ran the ball at will and won in a barn burner. Do you think that was a reflection of a change in personnel or the system? What is your prediction for how Tulane handles the option this weekend?
Fritz’s ability to game plan for Navy has been impressive in terms of how close all of Tulane’s contests with them have been under his tenure which began in 2016. Despite the fact that the Mids have won three of the four match-ups since Fritz took over, no game in that span was decided by more than seven points. Before Fritz, Tulane only played Navy once with former coach Curtis Johnson calling the shots, but lost by 17 points. In Fritz’s first season, Navy was able to gash the Green Wave for 300 rushing yards and three such touchdowns. 2017 and 2018 spelled a different story though. The Midshipmen didn’t even rush for 200 yards in either of those games and, of course, Tulane wound up winning the 2018 edition.
Through that span, it did seem as though Fritz and his staff had found a way to combat Navy’s punishing ground attack. However, last season the Mids rushed for the most yards they ever have against Tulane in AAC play (386). That was a big reason why the Green Wave lost.
That being said, I would attribute Tulane’s initial success against Mids run game to the team’s personnel. Over the last couple seasons the Wave has boasted one of the better defensive lines in the American thanks in large part to guys like Patrick Johnson and Cam Sample. It is precisely because of those two that I expect to see Tulane be able to handle Navy’s rushing attack relatively well on Saturday. Last week alone, the duo of Johnson and Sample combined for 5.5 tackles for loss and they seem to just be heating up. That could spell trouble for not only Navy but the remainder of their opponents.
AAE: How do you think Keon Howard and front five handles the controlled chaos of a Brian Newberry run defense? What are your guesses for Tulane’s offensive approach this week?
Brian Newberry’s defense gave Tulane its share of problems last season. The Green Wave didn’t eclipse the 200-yard rushing mark in the game last year and it was only one of four times that happened in 2019. The success or failure in this department on Saturday will hinge on the play of the offensive line that, I believe, Wave fans should have a tremendous amount of faith in.
This group is led by outstanding senior Corey Dublin. Dublin has never missed a start in his career and is a huge reason why the team’s ground game sees the success it does. He and his mates on the line will have a tall task against guys like Evan Fochtman and Diego Fagot, but I think the combined experience of the guys up front will be enough to pave the way for a successful showing on Tulane’s part.
As far as Tulane’s offensive approach, I expect a lot of running early. With star Corey Dauphine out for the season due to a torn Achilles, this is a team that wants to show they can still run the ball effectively. Anticipate Fritz to call plays centered around Amare Jones, Tyjae Spears and Cameron Carroll. If said play calls are successful, that will open things up for Howard to take to the air which we could see later in the game. Even in last week’s narrow victory, Tulane was able to stay true to the run game as they compiled 203 yards on the ground. I think they stick to that script this weekend, especially seeing as Navy surrendered over 300 rush yards to BYU.
AAE: Last season’s big threat for Navy was Malcolm Perry, who is now playing on Sundays. Navy’s Week One match-up was certainly nothing to write home about for fans of the Mids. What, if anything, concerns you about this Navy team?
Malcolm Perry was really the motor that made the engine go for Navy last season and the game with Tulane was no different. He was the team’s second leading rusher against the Wave behind only Jamale Carothers and had 142 yards. While it is nice for the Green Wave that Perry won’t be terrorizing them this year, I am still concerned about aspects of Navy’s defense, specifically the linebacking corps. The aforementioned Focthman and Fagot will be guys that Tulane needs to know where they are at all times. They combined for 153 total tackles a season ago and had a combined three turnovers between them in 2019. Both have a nose for the ball and could be very disruptive to the Wave offense on Saturday. Safety Kevin Brennan is another player that could give the team some issues, especially if Howard isn’t careful when throwing.