The next level
Glen Cuiellette ran to his right on the option, pitched just before being hit and watched Sherman Badie turn the corner for a 9-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against SMU.
Coach Willie Fritz would love to see more plays like that. Instead, they have been rare. Option pitches are a big part of the triple-option package he wants to run, but the Green Wave has not executed them well through eight games of his first season in New Orleans.
“It’s been (an issue) for all 11 (players),” offensive coordinator Doug Ruse said. “Obviously the quarterback has the ball in his hands and he’s the one making the read, but it’s got to be the right angles with the back and the right scheme up front. Like the passing game, there’s a lot of moving parts.”
Unlike his last stop at Georgia Southern, Fritz inherited a team that never had run the option. Work on pitch plays in spring practice, preseason drills and all week before games this year still has not gotten the quarterbacks and the players around them up to speed.
Tulane ran the option at least 10 times against SMU last week, gaining more than 3 yards four times and pitching twice. Almost all of the Green Wave’s big gains this year have come on handoffs rather than option keepers or pitches.
“We just have to pull the trigger,” Fritz said. “There have probably been five, six, seven times this year if we pitch the ball, it’s a touchdown. We just have to get to that point to have confidence to do it.”
Cuiellette said it was just a matter of time before the option started clicking, but time is running out this season. Fritz won’t continue to beat his head against a wall without rapid improvement.
“We’re going to adapt this to our personnel,” he said. “At Georgia Southern, we just didn’t throw it much because we weren’t real good at throwing, but boy, we could run the triple option, so we took advantage of that. We’re getting closer.”
Even Badie’s touchdown was not textbook. He made it to the end zone with a little space and plenty of individual effort.
“We didn’t really block it real clean on the perimeter,” Fritz said. “It should have been a walk-in touchdown.”
1. Fast start
Tulane failed to show up for the first half each of the past two weeks, getting outscored 52-17 and outgained 576-193 by Tulsa and SMU. That won’t cut it against Central Florida. The Wave has to find its running game from the start. Dontrell Hilliard, Josh Rounds and Lazedrick Thompson had five runs of 30 yards or more in the second half of those two games — and only one longer than 17 yards in the first half.
2. Bend but don't break
Statistically, UCF has one of the worst offenses in the AAC, ranking 10th in yards and passing. A closer examination reveals a feast-or-famine approach. UCF is last in the league in red zone possessions (24) but tied for third in percentage of touchdowns (66.7 percent) when it gets there. The Knights also have scored 14 touchdowns of more than 20 yards and 11 of more than 30 yards. The Tulane defense needs to prevent big plays and be strong in the red zone.
3. Road woes
Results on the road have not been pretty for Tulane in the AAC. The Wave is 1-8 away from Yulman Stadium and has lost six in a row by at least 17 points. Only one of those defeats came with Willie Fritz as coach, but the 52-27 shellacking at Tulsa two weeks ago was ugly. There is one bit of history working in the Wave’s favor: The point spread as of Thursday was 17 points, and Tulane’s lone road victory in the AAC came as a 17-point underdog to Houston in 2014.
4. Passing fancy
Tulane came alive against SMU in the third quarter when Glen Cuiellette threw a pair of 24-yard touchdown passes to Terren Encalade. The Wave likely will need more of that balance against UCF’s athletic defense, which ranks third in the AAC against the run. Only one team, Maryland of the ACC, has averaged as much as 4.0 yards per carry against the Knights, who held Michigan to 119 yards on 41 rushes and Houston to 158 on 49. Without the threat of the pass, the Wave won’t get much done on the ground.
Numbers worth knowing
0 — Victories by either team vs. FBS opponents with a winning record
27 — Catches by Tulane receiver Terren Encalade
25 — Catches for the rest of Tulane’s wideouts