Last Saturday ended up being a ton of fun but it’s time to turn the page and set sights on Auburn’s next opponent, a team coming to Jordan-Hare with a lot of momentum. The Tulane Green Wave opened their 2019 season at home last Thursday night against Butch Davis’s Florida International Panthers. It was thought to be a fairly even matchup between two veteran teams looking to build on last season’s success.
Tulane had other plans.
The Green Wave smashed the poor Panthers 42-14 behind a 350 yard rushing attack and an attacking defense. Tulane smothered FIU’s offense holding it to under 300 yards while its offense piled on 500+ behind new offensive coordinator Will Hall’s fast paced attack. They now make the trip from New Orleans to the Plains having won 6 of their last 7 and hungry for the upset.
Here’s a closer look at Auburn’s week 2 opponent.
Tulane’s offense is under new leadership and features quite a few former P5 prospects. Let’s start first with the players to watch.
After starting the 2018 season 2-5, 3rd year head coach Willie Fritz decided to make a change at quarterback. Justin McMillan had transferred to Tulane just a week before the start of the 2018 season. The Green Wave returned last year’s starter Jonathan Banks so it seemed likely the former LSU Tiger would sit behind Banks a year before taking over in 2019.
But after the rough start to the season, Fritz decided to insert McMillan as starter following a tough home loss to SMU. The move proved fruitful as the Green Wave rattled off three straight wins to bring their record to .500. After getting pummeled by Houston, Tulane won a wild affair with Navy becoming bowl eligible for the first time in 5 years and actually finishing in a 3-way tie for first in the AAC West. They would go on to smack Louisiana around in the Cure Bowl.
A true dual threat QB, McMillan will threaten Auburn both with his arm and with his feet. The southpaw won AAC Offensive Player of the Week for the 2nd straight time (he earned that honor after his performance in the Cure Bowl to end last season) this past week after throwing for 199 yds on 14/18 passing and 2 touchdowns while also rushing 9 times for 51 yards and a score.
However, the strength of this team is at running back. No there’s no Boobee Whitlow in the backfield (though it almost happened) but there is 6’1” 230 lb power back Darius Bradwell who is a load to bring down and coming off a 1,000 yard season in 2018.
He shares time with the only 4* on the roster in Corey Dauphine and junior Stephen Huderson. Dauphine is the HR threat of the bunch averaging 6.3 yards a carry last season. Against FIU he touched the ball only 3 times but two of them went for scores.
Slotback Amare Jones is an all purpose back who will do a little of everything. Hall likes to move him all over the field to find mismatches and get him the ball in space. He touched the rock 5 times last weekend and averaged almost 10 yards a touch and found paydirt once.
Tulane’s wideouts aren’t very big but are sure handed, twitchy playmakers who do a great job getting consistent separation. Darnell Mooney is the big play threat going for 993 yards last season on 48 catches and scoring 8 times. He’s joined by former Oklahoma State standout Jalen McCleskey who shined as a vertical threat out of the slot in Mike Gundy’s offense. He had a relatively quiet debut last weekend but is someone I fully expect to have a major role tomorrow against the Tigers.
The Green Wave also make good use of their tight ends. FIU had a lot of trouble keeping track of Tyrick James last Thursday as he caught 4 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. It will be very important that Auburn’s linebackers and safeties don’t lose James in all the madness of Tulane’s offensive attack. He’s a sneaky weapon in this offense.
Up front, Tulane has experience but I really do think this is where the biggest mismatch will take place tomorrow. This bunch is quite a step down from Oregon’s well regarded starting five from last week. Tyler Johnson, Corey Dublin and Brown transfer Christian Murano have seen a lot of snaps in their careers but I am not sure anyone on this group has the strength to consistently stand up to Derrick Brown or Nick Coe. Auburn should and must dominate the line of scrimmage when Tulane has the football.
Fritz has made his living running the triple option but his offenses have struggled at Tulane. So following last season, the head coach decided to make a change. He sacked his long time offensive coordinator Doug Ruse and quickly hired Memphis tight ends coach and former D2 head coach Will Hall ceding control of the offense to the young playcaller.
Hall’s offenses at West Alabama and West Georgia were fast paced. While Tulane will remain a run heavy team (some triple option elements remain), Hall has also introduced a healthy amount of RPO concepts (especially in early downs) as a way to keep numbers out of the box for the Green Wave’s outstanding rushing attack.
Tulane makes use of very wide splits to put outside linebackers and safeties in conflict. They want to strain a defense horizontally to open up creases for the run game and find favorable 1 on 1 matchups for its wideouts.
With such a run heavy attack, play action is a crucial part of this offense. The Green Wave also make use of a ton of misdirection and pump fakes to get defenses flowing one way, only to throw the ball back another.
Last Thursday was this retooled Tulane offenses’ debut and you can bet new offensive coordinator Will Hall left quite a few bullets in the chamber for Auburn tomorrow night. There’s zero doubt the Tigers have a major talent edge but as we saw in the first quarter last week, could be susceptible to coverage busts and misalignments. I would not at all be surprised if once again Auburn’s defense gives up some chunk plays early in the game. But I don’t see the Green Wave being able to find consistent success moving the football against Auburn’s front 7 and I am not sure McMillan has the skills to scare Auburn through the air.
The strength of this team last season was undoubtedly the defense. The Green Wave finished 4th in the AAC in defense per SP+ thanks in large part to a salty front 7. Tulane was #9 in the nation in sacks last year recording 41. This is a defense that will be on the attack Saturday night.
It all starts with #7 Patrick Johnson. Playing Tulane’s hybrid DE/OLB position (called the Joker in Jack Curtis’s scheme), Johnson is a player who excels at causing disruption in opposing backfields. He finished with 10 sacks last season but even more impressive forced four fumbles. Tulane will line him up all over the field and will often drop him back in coverage to confuse the QB. But he’s at his best rushing the passer from the edge and will pose quite the test for Auburn’s veteran offensive tackles. It would not at all surprise me if Johnson heard his name called in next April’s NFL Draft.
Tulane also returns their other three starters along the defensive line in Cameron Sample, Jeffery Johnson and De’Andre Williams. I have been really impressed with this group from the limited tape I’ve see of Tulane’s defense. They are strong, well disciplined and not easily displaced off the line of scrimmage. Auburn’s offensive line will have to play well if they want to consistently open up run lanes against this group.
Defensive coordinator Jack Curtis’s scheme puts a lot on his linebackers. The defensive line is charged with mucking things up while the 2nd level attacks. Last year’s leading tackler, Zachery Harris, is gone but the #3 and #4 tacklers are back as starters this year in Marvin Moody and Lawrence Graham.
The star of the secondary is unquestionably senior Thakarius Keyes. The 6’1” 200 lb corner excels in man coverage and will most likely be the Green Waver tasked with locking down Seth Williams. He had a tremendous interception in last week’s season opener.
I like Auburn’s matchups elsewhere in the secondary. Gone are Roderic Teamer and Donnie Lewis Jr, two outstanding DBs for Tulane last season. While the Green Wave return plenty of experience, I don’t necessarily see many other elite athletes in this DB group. Auburn’s wideouts should be able to gain separation and give Bo Nix a chance to get some more completions under his belt. They are also inconsistent tacklers which means there could be a chance for some yards after the catch tomorrow for the Tigers.
Like most teams these days, Tulane spends most of its time in Nickel on defense. Their front is extremely multiple with Johnson’s ability to line up as a standup linebacker on the edge or rush the passer with his hand in the ground. From limited watching of Tulane’s defense, they prefer odd man fronts like the Ducks did last week meaning Kaleb Kim will again be tested with a man in his face on most every snap.
Curtis is not afraid to blitz. Expect Tulane to attack Auburn’s young freshman QB with a wide range of blitz schemes and stunts. Johnson’s athleticism allows them to drop him into coverage and bring a safety or corner from opposite side to create confusion in opposing offense’s pass protections. Auburn’s offense had some struggles in the first half picking up Avalos’s creative stunts and blitzes. This week will be a good chance to correct some of those mistakes.
While Tulane will run a lot of different coverages, I wouldn’t be surprised if they spend most of their time in early downs in 1 high safety looks with a man rolled down into the box, challenging Bo Nix to prove he can consistently makes plays through the air. Against Ohio State last season, Tulane decided to sell out to stop the run which allowed Haskins to carve up the Green Wave secondary with man beater concepts that got their speedy playmakers in space. Auburn didn’t run a lot of quick hitting passing concepts last weekend against Oregon. I think this week it’s vital they allow Nix to get the ball out of his hand quickly and give Auburn’s WRs a chance to win 1 on 1 matchups vs a defense with a penchant for surrendering big plays.
As I said in my prediction earlier today, I expect this game to be frustratingly close early. Tulane has one of the better front 7s I’ve seen from a G5 team in some time and have an offensive attack Auburn hasn’t had a chance to see a ton of film on. It would not shock me to see some early busts again out of the defense and another turnover from Nix early in this game.
But I will be stunned if this Tulane rushing attack is able to stay consistent at all. While Tulane might try to utilize the quick passing game like Oregon did last week, they don’t have a possible top 5 pick throwing the pigskin around so I highly doubt they can be as efficient.
As for Auburn’s offense, Nix will probably have some more freshman moments but I expect a big day from him Saturday. I think you will see Auburn look to give him some easier throws earlier, establish the run and then give him a chance to hit some deep shots over the top off of play action. Overall, this is a solid week 2 opponent who will give Auburn a chance to work on some areas of weakness. Hopefully, Auburn can take care of business relatively quickly and get some younger guys more snaps later Saturday night. Most importantly though the Tigers need to get the W and get out of this weekend healthy.