On an opening weekend when numerous key players across the country were hit with season-ending injuries, Tulane is almost as healthy as it can be entering Saturday's American Athletic Conference opener at Navy.
Defensive end Robert Kennedy remains out while recovering from offseason knee surgery, and walk-on receiver Brian Newman won’t play because of a leg injury he suffered in preseason camp.
Other than those two, everyone who normally would be on the travel roster will be on the flight to Maryland.
Florida State lost quarterback Deondre Francois for the year while falling 24-7 to Alabama. Georgia and Texas A&M lost their quarterbacks, too, and Alabama lost two starting linebackers.
Tulane lost no one in its opening romp over Grambling.
“We’re in pretty good shape,” coach Willie Fritz said. “I’m glad we had a game to get prepared and work the kinks out, and we did a nice job of staying out of harm’s way.”
Navy, which went 9-4 last year despite having starters or key contributors miss 106 games, reported no significant injuries in its 42-19 win at Florida Atlantic.
No kicking change
Tulane redshirt freshman Coby Neenan will get a chance to work out the kinks after missing two extra points in the second half against Grambling.
Neenan, who made his other four PATs and hit a 21-yard field goal, beat out walk-ons Merek Glover and Randy Harvey in preseason camp. Fritz did not reopen competition in practice this week, adding that video showed what Neenan did wrong.
“It was his mechanics,” Fritz said. “His plant foot was a little too close and he was hanging back there a little bit too long, so we made some minor modifications. He's very talented. We've just got to get him to execute and do it in the games.”
Asked about the offensive line's play against Grambling, Fritz singled out freshman guard Corey Dublin.
“For his first start, he played well,” Fritz said. “The rest of them really had some good stuff they did and maybe some stuff they need to improve on. They weren't as smooth the whole game.”
Tulane’s running backs did not find much room in the first half, gaining only 48 yards on 13 carries, but Fritz credited Grambling for stacking the box in different ways more than he blamed the Wave’s blocking.
Tulane finished with 296 rushing yards on 51 attempts. Backups Darius Bradwell (six carries for 58 yards) and Stephon Huderson (seven for 36) did most of the damage in the second half.
“It was a complex scheme they were running, and it took us a little while to figure it out,” Fritz said. “Then some guys came in at the end of the game and did a nice job for us.”
Sophomore Keyshawn McLeod, who missed the opener with an ankle injury, is slated to start at right tackle against Navy. Dominique Briggs will move back to his normal position at right guard after filling in for McLeod.
Plenty of options
The option element is vital to Fritz’s ground game, but he refuted the notion that Tulane and Navy have similar offenses.
The Midshipmen put their quarterback under center, rely on a man-to-man blocking scheme and do not spread the field. The Wave operates out of the shotgun on every snap, usually with three wide receivers and one running back, and uses zone blocking.
"Really what we're doing is a lot different than what they're doing,” Fritz said. “It starts with the offensive line. There are a few similarities but not a whole lot. (Navy’s scheme) is a little bit like (prep power John Curtis') under-center split-back veer. When you run it from the gun, the mesh point and timing are totally different.”
Navy is 27-2 over the past five years when winning the turnover battle. Last year against the Midshipmen, Fritz said he lost for the first time as a coach when his team was plus-2 in turnover margin. … Tulane leads the series 11-9, but Navy has won the past three. …The announcers for CBS Sports Network will be John Sadak on play-by-play and analyst Randy Cross.