Tulane coach Willie Fritz believes it's next to impossible to prepare for Navy’s triple-option offense in just one week.
So it’s a good thing that won’t be the case for the Green Wave (1-0), which faces the Midshipmen (1-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Annapolis, Maryland, in an unusually early American Athletic Conference opener.
When the Tulane players hit the practice field Tuesday, they already had plenty of preparation behind them.
“We spent a lot of time on them this summer and spent a lot of time in preseason camp, so it's not like we haven't seen it yet,” Fritz said. “We didn’t have to put together a game plan Monday. You can't do that with that type of team.”
Navy, a two-touchdown favorite and the defending AAC West champion, rushed for 416 yards in a 42-19 road rout of Florida Atlantic on Friday. That’s nothing unusual for the Midshipmen, who averaged 310.1 rushing yards a year ago and 326.7 in 2015.
The ratio of 68 runs to 10 passes against FAU was par for the course, too. They have been using the same triple-option attack for 16 years, first with current Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson and now under 10th-year coach Ken Niumatalolo.
“We saw it a lot in the offseason when we got spare time to get ahead of the game,” Tulane safety Roderic Teamer said. “But you can’t simulate how fast Navy does it. They come out and are rolling off the ball and, before you know it, they are in the end zone.”
It’s not just the recent preparation that will help Tulane. While Fritz’s three-wide receiver, shotgun-based, zone-blocking version of offense bears little resemblance to the Midshipmen’s under-center, man-to-man approach, his seniors, including five starters, have more experience against triple-option teams than almost anyone. Tulane faced Georgia Tech in 2014 and 2015, Army in 2015 and Navy in 2015 and 2016.
Those three schools, plus Air Force part of the time, are the only ones in the Football Bowl Subdivision that operate the triple option with the quarterback under center.
“Tennessee has a good team, and they gave up more than 500 yards rushing to Georgia Tech (on Monday),” Fritz said. “I’m sure they worked on it quite a bit. It’s a booger. We’ve just got to be on point every single play.”
That’s particularly true, because there won’t be as many possessions as Tulane will get against any other team. Navy eats up the clock week after week.
Tulane and Grambling combined for 22 series Saturday. Navy and Notre Dame combined for only 13 in the Midshipmen’s 28-27 upset last year, with the Fighting Irish getting six.
“This won't be a 3½-hour game,” Fritz said. “You’ve got to do a good job with ball security, a great job with takeaways and a good job of matching them moving the chains.”
The bulk of that responsibility falls to quarterback Jonathan Banks, who threw for 185 yards and rushed for 69 while accounting for four touchdowns against Grambling in his Tulane debut.
“Navy is a real disciplined team, so we have to be real sharp in practice every day,” he said. “They’re up at 6 o’clock marching, so we’ve got to be up and on it. I’m not up at 6 marching, but I’m up at 6 watching film.”
Defensively, the priority is slowing junior quarterback Zach Abey, who rushed for 235 yards on 32 attempts against FAU, picking up where predecessors Keenan Reynolds and Will Worth left off in his fourth career start (and first win).
Abey (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) faltered when he took over for the injured Worth at the end of 2016. With an offseason to get ready, he ran right through FAU.
“He’s not real flashy, but he’s big,” Fritz said. “If you don't get him between the clubs, he's not going down. You've got to physically tackle him every single time. He puts his foot in the ground and gets vertical. Most of these guys have run that style of offense forever.”
Sophomore right tackle Keyshawn McLeod practiced Tuesday after missing the Grambling game with an ankle injury, and Fritz said he would be ready Saturday. His return allows Dominique Briggs to slide back to his normal spot at right guard. … Fritz said he was pleased with the way Tulane played offensively, defensively and on special teams in the first half against Grambling, taking the Tigers out of the game.