Dontrell Hilliard may be tired, but he isn’t about to complain.
Tulane’s running back loves the offense he’s playing in. And who in his position wouldn’t?
The Green Wave (1-2, 0-1 American Athletic Conference) has attempted just 18 passes in its past two games, relying almost exclusively on its rushing attack and experienced stable of running backs, led by Hilliard. While coach Willie Fritz has said he wants to incorporate more balance into Tulane’s game plan, it’s become increasingly difficult to implement.
Offensive balance will be one of the critical areas to watch when Tulane welcomes Louisiana-Lafayette to Yulman Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday for an in-state showdown.
Coach Willie Fritz said he’s still uncertain who will start at quarterback for the Green Wave against the Ragin’ Cajuns (2-1), but knows there’s an experienced backfield alongside whoever is taking the snaps. Quarterbacks Johnathan Brantley and Glen Cuiellette have started this season and both are expected to play, even though Fritz won’t formally announce who tops the depth chart until game day.
"We are going to play both,” Fritz said Thursday. “Johnathan and Glen are going to play. We're going to figure out what the rotation is going to be and those kind of things.”
Regardless of which one takes the majority of snaps, Tulane’s run-based offense will rely on the success of the triple option and finding creases for the running backs to get through. While Brantley is a superior runner who can break free on nearly any touch, Cuiellette presents more of a threat throwing and keeps defenses from stacking the line of scrimmage.
Properly weighing the benefits and risks of the two quarterbacks has proven to be difficult for Fritz. The rotation alongside of them, however, is much easier to employ.
That’s the benefit of an experienced stable of running backs.
“They do a lot for us,” Brantley said. “Just knowing you can go to any of those guys is nice and I think at just about any other school, those guys would all be starting. So it’s good to have that many consistent running backs in our offense.”
Hilliard has taken most of the carries in the first three games, already logging 33 attempts, 236 yards and four touchdown. Meanwhile, seniors Josh Rounds and Lazedrick Thompson have also been shuffled in an out, with the pair combining for 213 yards on 33 carries, including a remarkable seven touchdowns.
It’s a rotation befitting an offense with more than enough carries to go around. Each running back publicly praises the others’ ability, part of closeness gained from sharing the backfield together for the past three years.
“We are really close as a group because we’ve been played here and been here with each other for so long,” Hilliard said. “When I came in Josh and Zeddy (Thompson) would tell me what was right and wrong and always showed me what to do. They never worried about if I was taking their chances. Now, we all have a chance and I think we are showing how deep we are.”
Sherman Badie, the fleet-footed junior, is sidelined by a groin injury, prompting Fritz to move speedy receiver Devin Glenn into the backfield in Badie’s place. Tulane hopes Glenn can help replace Badie’s dynamic big-play ability and add one more threat to Tulane’s most reliable offensive unit.
Considering the unknowns in the passing game, all four backs will likely need to contribute if Tulane hopes to end its three-game home stand with a win.
“It really is fun,” Hilliard said. “It gives us the opportunity to show off our talent and show what we can do as a whole group and show it to the world. It’s not just in practice anymore. Now everyone is seeing all of us a lot.”