1. BANKING ON BANKS
Navy is vulnerable in the secondary. The Midshipmen ranked 123rd out of 128 teams in pass efficiency defense a year ago and allowed touchdown passes of 95 and 62 yards to Florida Atlantic last Friday. Jonathan Banks was sharp in his debut at quarterback for Tulane, completing 10 of 15 passes for 185 yards and three scores. He is the dual-threat playmaker the Green Wave had lacked. Look for him to soften up the Midshipmen with his feet before going after them hard with his arm.
2. EVERY PLAY COUNTS
Navy led the nation in third-down conversion percentage (.545) a year ago and finished last in third-down conversion defense (.535), a strange coupling that led to precious few possessions. Any drive-killing mistake Tulane or Navy makes will be magnified because they won’t have as many chances to recover from them. Tulane committed no turnovers against Grambling. Navy had only two penalties against FAU. Even more so than usual, the team that plays the cleaner game will have a distinct advantage.
3. KICKING WOES
Both kickers are looking to bounce back after shaky openers. Tulane’s Coby Neenan, a redshirt freshman, missed back-to-back extra points in the second half against Grambling but will get another shot because coach Willie Fritz likes his potential and leg strength. The staff has identified a technique problem he needs to correct immediately. Navy’s Bennett Moehring was perfect on six PATs but missed a 29-yard field goal against FAU. If the game is close, the team whose kicker straightens out his issues will have the advantage.
4. CLOSING IT OUT
When Tulane lost at Wake Forest 7-3 in Fritz’s debut last year, he lamented that he had been hired to win games like that and had come up short. The Wave then lost to Navy and SMU at home after leading in the fourth quarter. He expects more toughness in Year 2, and this will be the first test. Despite being a 13-point underdog, the Wave believes it is on even terms with the Midshipmen. It’s difficult to beat Navy on the road, but Tulane needs to find a way.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
4 of 18: Times Tulane has won its league opener since Tommy Bowden left in 1998.
39-10: Navy’s home record under coach Ken Niumatalolo.
10-43: Tulane’s road record in the same span.
The next level: Slowing Navy's triple option
Tulane’s defense did not do much wrong in diagnosing Navy’s relentless triple-option offense last year at Yulman Stadium. The problem was finishing plays.
The Midshipmen rushed for 287 yards in their tight, 21-14 victory largely because their ball-carriers kept going after they were hit close to the line of scrimmage.
“Other than those missed tackles, we played pretty well last year against Navy,” linebackers coach Michael Mutz said. “If we had tackled better, it probably would have been a different result, so that's what we're working on.”
The Wave expects better results in that department for the rematch in Annapolis, Maryland. Coach Willie Fritz personally conducts tackling drills in almost every practice, obsessing about proper technique.
For the most part, the work paid off a year ago. After studying video, the coaches determined the defense missed 15.4 percent of its tackles, down more than 50 percent from 32.6 in 2015.
The next step is doing it against Navy, which tests an opponent’s patience by running the same plays over and over.
“You start getting people coming at you and start body blocking, you have to tackle,” Fritz said. “That requires you to use your arms and wrap up and get them down and play with leverage. There’s not going to be a whole lot of cutbacks in this game. These guys are either straight ahead, or they are running laterally.”
With eight seniors and three juniors starting on defense, Tulane has the experience to avoid becoming flustered. Nickelback Jarrod Franklin, safety Roderic Teamer, end Ade Aruna, cornerback Donnie Lewis, linebacker Rae Juan Marbley and cornerback Parry Nickerson combined for 33 tackles against Navy last season. They understand what it's like to combat Navy’s option attack, and they are more comfortable in the second year of the new coaches’ scheme.
Now it’s just a matter of executing what they know.
“With the option, it’s your run fits and being assignment-sound,” Mutz said. “If you’re supposed to be on the quarterback that play, then be on the quarterback. If you’re supposed to be on the pitch, be on the pitch. You want to make them execute all three phases, to have to pull it (from the fullback) and make them pitch and then run it down.”