If a college football season opener is like the unveiling of a musical, Tulane’s offense is putting together a revival.
This offseason, coach Bob Toledo decided to retake the offensive play-calling duties after a two year absence from the responsibility. Since then, he’s been busily retrofitting the Green Wave attack back into his philosophical comfort zone.
It means Tulane will spend less time in the pass-heavy, four-receiver, shotgun-spread employed by former offensive coordinator Dan Dodd in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, replaced with a heavier dose of a two-back, balanced approach with the intent to chew up yardage on the ground before launching over the top via play-action pass - a loose model of Toledo’s 2007 and 2008 system.
So when Tulane takes the field at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Superdome against Southeastern Louisiana, there will be no doubt who is in control of the Green Wave offense.
“We are going to get back to doing what I know best,” Toledo said. “I want to be more involved. I want to enjoy it. I want to bring more enthusiasm to the kids. That’s why I’m doing it.”
He also feels the offense stalled too often under Dodd’s direction, as Tulane finished 11th in Conference USA last season in both yards per pass attempt (6.3) and passing efficiency (119.2), in a spread attack based around short, precise passes.
This year, Tulane is hoping to trade in accuracy for impact.
“You’ve got to try to threaten deep,” Toledo said. “You have to make them respect the field vertically. I don’t think we did that very well last year. We were much more of a nickel, dime type of passing game while trying to get guys to run after the catch. Well, we didn’t run very well after the catch to be honest with you.
“My philosophy is we are going to run the ball, run the ball and get people in the box, and then we are going to take advantage of single coverage. We are going to go deep. So you’ll see us take four or five shots at least during the course of the game.”
In Toledo’s first stint as Tulane’s play-caller in 2007 and 2008, he relied extensively on running backs Matt Forte and Andre Anderson to take handoffs in an attempt to highlight a strength while masking a shaky quarterback situation.
While this year’s version will also be “tailback-oriented” according to Toledo, it’s not because of a lack of trust in quarterback Ryan Griffin. The redshirt junior said he has more responsibility than ever, in terms of making a play call at the line of scrimmage and understanding the tweaks in the game plan.
“We are asked to do more with coach Toledo’s offense,” Griffin said. “There are more checks and reads. We will have two or three plays called, and I have to figure out which one to run when I get up to the line. So there’s a lot more mentally that we have to do. There’s a lot more on my shoulders, but that’s something I like.”
The Green Wave’s offensive personnel also fits the refined strategy. After losing four of its top five receivers from a year ago (D.J. Banks and Devin Figaro to transfer, Casey Robottom and Cody Sparks to graduation), the running game figured to take a more prominent role anyway.
Coupled with an overflowing stable of talented running backs - Toledo said he wants to play six - the transition begins to explain itself. Sophomore Orleans Darkwa broke out for 925 yards and 11 touchdowns on 184 carries last year, and he’s followed by senior Albert Williams, junior Steve Barnett, freshmen Robert Kelley and Dante Butler, and sophomore and former University Lab product Jamar Thomas.
That’s where the revival of Toledo’s offense emerges. Just as Matt Forte rushed for 2,000 yards in 2007, Toledo wants to put a spotlight on talent in 2011.
“My thing is to utilize players, and they all have special talents,” Toledo said. “Part of coaching is doing what players do best. One of the things I’ll do is have packages for certain players and try to utilize their talents.”