The Tulane football team practiced what coach Willie Fritz preached in its first spring session with a new staff on Monday morning.
At the end of every snap in every drill, the player with the ball had to hand it back to one of the equipment staffers, all of who were dressed in referees’ uniforms. If he tossed it or pitched it to them, a coach immediately made him go to the ground for five push-ups.
“Well, that’s being cognizant of ball security the whole time, all the way through the play,” Fritz said. “We over-exaggerate that because we’re trying to make those guys realize the most important thing is the ball. We are really going to have great habits with ball security throughout the play.”
Fritz introduced another drill in which the offensive players had to sidestep a coach and jump over a stack of four cushions while holding on to the ball. Even the offensive linemen participated.
The practice also had a period when the defensive linemen tried to pick up the ball and run after every incomplete pass in what Fritz labeled a “scoop and score rep.”
Clearly, the turnover from former coach Curtis Johnson to Fritz has produced a new emphasis on turnovers. Tulane actually had a positive takeaway/giveaway ratio in Johnson’s last three years, but his staff never emphasized it like Fritz.
Few coaches do. After practice on Monday, Fritz rattled off some detailed statistics, insisting his teams had won 91 percent of the games in which they forced more turnovers than their opponent and 100 percent when the margin was at least two.
“I’ve got what we call the plan to win, and I’ve done it for 23 years as a head football coach,” Fritz said. “I put the numbers up there in front of those guys. If we’re plus-1 (in turnover margin), the Wave is going to win. If we’re plus-2, the Wave is going to kick butt.”
A quick check of the record books revealed Georgia Southern had a perfect record in Fritz’ two years there when it won the turnover battle. Only one team in 2014 coughed up the ball fewer times than the Panthers’ total of 12.
It was no accident. Already plastered in the Tulane football offices and meeting rooms are reminders of the importance of turnover margin. At one point in Monday’s practice, every position group worked on ball security at the same time, with Fritz yelling constant reminders.
“The coaches are always getting on you about it,” said redshirt sophomore quarterback Glen Cuillette said. “I had one run today where they were like, ‘hey, ball security.’ It’s really making me focus on something I lacked in high school, too. I tend to cradle the ball when I’m running.”
Tulane won’t have an experience quarterback in the fall. Senior Devin Powell, with four career starts, is the only candidate who has played a meaningful down.
The Wave’s offensive line is a work in progress after it struggled to block for the run or the pass last season.
But making fewer mistakes can be the great equalizer.
“The biggest difference in this practice was how they are emphasizing the smaller things,” defensive tackle Tanzel Smart said. “Turnover ratio is going to help us win some games.”
Long snapper Michael Lizanich, who had snapping issues the past three years under Johnson, is no longer on the roster. Neither is sophomore safety Malik Eugene, an Acadiana High product who played in 11 games as a true freshman with eight tackles. … Fritz said redshirt freshman running back Nigel Anderson is ineligible to practice in the spring but is still part of the team.