Ask Tulane coach Curtis Johnson what are the top five items on his offseason to do list and he’ll answer, “Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting, recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. How many is that?”
Actually, it’s six. But who’s counting when you’ve just gone 3-9?
So while CJ is out beating the bushes for better talent to replace all but the last few remnants of the Bob Toledo era, here’s Nos. 6-10 if the Green Wave is to improve on this season, which ended with a 10-3 loss to Temple.
6. Get stronger on both sides of the line
OK, The American Athletic Conference isn’t the power league Commissioner Mike Aresco claims it is. But it’s considerably more physical than Conference USA.
The Cincinnati game (7.6 yards per rush by the Bearcats) was the biggest proof of that. And next season, the Wave faces three option teams — Georgia Tech, Army and AAC newcomer Navy.
Tulane ran the ball well enough — 147.9 yards per game, with a 4.2 per-carry average — and has four starters back on the line. But the production was tailing off considerably at the end of the year.
7. Score more points
Well, duh. But the truth is that the Wave went into the Temple game No. 116 nationally at just 17.2 points per game. It finished at 16.0.
Johnson insists he isn’t going to change his scheme, a pro-style attack featuring two backs most of the time. But he needs to work on getting the ball into the hands of his wide receivers more.
8. Get an outstanding offseason out of Tanner Lee
Johnson stayed with his redshirt freshman quarterback sometimes longer than he should have. But that was designed to gain experience for Lee in a season when realistically the Wave wasn’t going to be bowl-eligible after the opening-game loss to Tulsa.
Lee made a ton of mistakes — he threw 15 interceptions — and was often shaky at situational football. But by all accounts, he accepts criticism well and is prepared for as much film study as the staff can throw at him.
He needs to be. There’s really no alternative behind him.
9. Improve dramatically on special teams
They were a disaster early on and got better later only because Johnson took fewer chances, and areas like deep snaps couldn’t have gotten any worse.
Johnson has to find a way to upgrade the competition at those spots, or else he’s going to have to hope for maturation among the retunrees.
And the coaches have got to make a concerted effort on all phases of special teams. Tulane’s margin of error is too small to blow its opportunities while giving the other team bonus ones.
10. Examine the staff with a crucial eye
Johnson has yet to dismiss a coach. First-year Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason fired three assistants, including offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell, after the Commodores finished 122nd in total offense. Tulane was No. 106 before Saturday.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Johnson should make some moves. Such decisions take more than outside knowledge of the situation.
As for himself, Johnson readily admits he’s still learning on the job and has to make sounder in-game decisions. Sounds like he’s off to a good start in his critique.
The bottom line
Yulman Stadium proved to be a morale boost for the program. And while Tulane is behind in facilities, Johnson’s relationship with the Saints has bridged that gap.
And there doesn’t seem to be much, if any, difference in talent level between the Wave and the rest of the AAC. That means there’s no reason why the Tulane can’t compete for the AAC West title next season and at a minimum be bowl-eligible.
In fact, it should be expected at all levels of the university.
Whether it is will demonstrate just how strong the school’s pledge of accountability really is.