The Tulane football team’s spring game revealed the same strengths and weaknesses that were apparent during the first three weeks of drills.
The running backs and defensive linemen excelled while the passing game showed plenty of room for improvement Saturday at Yulman Stadium in a 72-play scrimmage that featured the first live tackling under new coach Willie Fritz.
“We did some good things out there,” Fritz said. “We had so many things to teach this spring — offense, defense, kicking game. It was good to get out here and compete against each other. We’ll use this for evaluation. There are some guys that are close to a real ballgame and really took advantage of it, and some that maybe didn’t. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Sherman Badie scored one of the offense’s two touchdowns with an 8-yard run, finishing a five-play, 65-yard drive (each series started at the offense’s 35-yard line) that was all about the running backs. He picked up 13 yards on an option pitch before Dontrell Hilliard burst through the ride side for a scrimmage-long 40-yard gain. Two plays later, Badie crossed the goal line on a third-and-8 draw.
Badie gained a scrimmage-high 67 yards on 10 carries. Hilliard finished with 40 yards on three attempts, and redshirt senior Josh Rounds, another candidate in Tulane’s crowded backfield, rushed nine times for 44 yards. Rounds had 17 yards on two attempts to set up the offense’s other touchdown, a 6-yard pass from Glen Cuiellette to walk-on wide receiver Chaz Augustini.
Lazedrick Thompson added 18 yards on five carries, including a powerful fourth-and-2 conversion.
“We’ve got really good backs,” said Fritz, whose option-based offenses at Georgia Southern led the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing the past two years. “Thompson, Hilliard, Badie and Rounds are Division I running backs. With the type of offense we run, we need to have those kind of backs.”
Redshirt sophomore Cuiellette, true freshman Darius Bradwell and senior Devin Powell rotated in that order at quarterback, with each getting 24 plays. Taking six snaps in a row before being replaced regardless of whether the series was over, they had little time to look for open receivers.
Backup defensive end Robert Kennedy registered four of the defense’s nine sacks. Ends Luke Jackson and Ade Aruna and tackles Tanzel Smart, Sean Wilson and John Washington added one apiece. The quarterbacks were not allowed to be hit, so the referees blew the whistle when defenders got close to them.
Smart recovered a fumble on a botched exchange between Cuiellette and Rounds on the second series.
“That’s another position we’re very deep at,” Fritz said. “I’ve just been very impressed with those guys. We have six or seven or eight guys that are Division I players on the defensive line.”
Kennedy, playing on the second unit, had sacks on three consecutive series.
“It’s been a rough spring, but it’s starting to pay off and I’m improving,” he said. “We were just playing fast, and I was going after it 100 percent full-throttle.”
Of the quarterbacks, Powell, who has started four games since he arrived in 2012, made the most plays. He completed his first four passes, hitting wideout Larry Dace for 10 and 20 yards on back-to-back plays to set up Cuiellette’s touchdown toss.
“I know what’s going on,” said Powell, who has been running the third team. “I know what the defense is running. I know everything. I also have great quarterback coaches teaching me. I understand the game. I’m definitely in the mix. I’ve got to be.”
Powell was 5-of-7 for 59 yards, and his incomplete passes were close calls. He overthrew Trey Scott by a couple of yards on a streak pattern and just missed connecting with Devin Glenn for what would have been a 46-yard touchdown on the final play. Glenn short-armed the ball as it went past him.
“I told some of the guys there’s not a homing device in the football that’s going to take it right to the receivers,” Fritz said. “You’ve got to go get those deep balls. Obviously (Powell has) more experience than the other two, particularly in the passing game.”
Cuiellette was 2-of-8 for 10 yards. Bradwell was 0-for-2 and had the day’s only interception, a ball that freshman safety Will Harper tipped to fellow safety Roderic Teamer.
“It’s been a lot of learning, but I felt like me and everyone, things gradually went up and up every day,” Cuiellette said. “I saw a lot of improvement with everybody.”
That was the idea all spring. Inheriting a team that finished 3-9 the past two years, Fritz basically is starting from scratch.
“I was just very impressed with our guys embracing change, adapting to a new system,” he said. “When you have a new staff come it, it’s totally different than what the last staff did. They’ve got to change and make sure that they’re doing things the way we want them to, and for the most part those guys were really easy to coach.”
Spring practice is not quite over. Tulane will work out Monday morning to replace a practice that was canceled due to thunderstorms earlier this week. … A field goal drill that preceded the scrimmage did not go well. Incumbent Andrew DiRocco, who was 9-for-10 last year, was 0-for-3, getting a 35-yarder blocked and coming up short on 39- and 44-yarders. Walk-ons Steven Logan (1-for-3) and Randy Harvey (1-for-3) were not much better. Freshman Coby Neenan will arrive in the fall. … Dace led a thin receiving corps with two catches for 30 yards. Terren Encalade had two receptions for 16 yards.