Tulane’s short week of practice before Friday night’s American Athletic Conference home opener against Memphis was cut back a little more on Wednesday morning.
The Green Wave moved its workout to the Saints indoor facility due to the threat of heavy rain and ended it about 20 minutes ahead of schedule to accommodate the Saints’ own practice.
“Obviously we were lucky to be able to come over here or we might not have been able to practice at all,” coach Willie Fritz said. “We were able to get it in. Both teams (Tulane and Memphis) have short weeks. That’s just the way it is.”
This is the third consecutive year Tulane and Memphis have played on a Friday but the first time both of them are coming in off equivalent rest. The Tigers played Thursday games the previous week and had two extra days to get ready in 2016 and 2017, beating the Wave 24-14 two years ago at Yulman Stadium and 56-26 in Memphis last season.
Memphis (3-1, 0-1 AAC) handled South Alabama 52-35 last Saturday. Tulane (1-3. 0-0) lost to Ohio State 49-6
Fritz’s teams have played eight times on short weeks since he became coach at Sam Houston State in 2010. He was 3-0 on those occasions at Sam Houston State with a pair of FCS playoff victories on Friday. He was 2-1 in his two-year stint at Georgia Southern, beating Troy and splitting with Appalachian State, all on Thursday.
He said he had learned to treat a Friday game like a normal week.
“Sometimes you try to pack everything in,” he said. “We went ahead and took Sunday off like we normally do just so we could prep and get ready.”
Banking on Banks
Jonathan Banks will start at quarterback again as he continues to look for the form he exhibited at the end of 2017.
He ranks eighth in the American Athletic Conference in passing efficiency, completing 49.5 percent of his passes for 792 yards and five touchdowns with one interception. He also has lost three fumbles and been sacked 14 times.
“Jonathan has done some good things,” Fritz said. “Some of the problems he’s had have been self-inflicted, but a lot have been from other positions. So we’ve got to get everything cleaned up.”
LSU graduate transfer Justin McMillan, who threw a strike to Darnell Mooney for a touchdown on a post pattern near the end of Wednesday’s practice, will remain the backup. McMillan relieved Banks for four plays in the third quarter against Ohio State and played the final two series for his first action at Tulane.
McMillan completed both of his passes — moving to 3 for 3 in his college career — but also took a sack and was tackled for a loss on consecutive plays.
Fritz said the packages the coaches designed for McMillan in case Banks got hurt earlier in the season were not necessary now because “he’s getting pretty close to having a good knowledge of our whole offense.” McMillan practiced with the Wave for the first time on Aug. 25.
Fritz added there was no specific plan for McMillan to play against Memphis, saying he would “see how the game goes.”
Fritz is happy with the prospect of getting senior tight ends Charles Jones and Kendall Ardoin back for the Memphis game.
Ardoin, who did not travel to Ohio State due to injury, is listed on top of the depth chart. Jones, the starter when healthy, is expected to play after missing three games with a leg injury.
“That can help a bunch,” Fritz said. “Charles has played some good football. If he stays healthy we think he’s a really good player. The great thing about Kendall is you know what you're going to get out of him in every single practice and every game. He's going to give you a workmanlike effort. He doesn't bust very often, and that's what you're looking for.”
Sensible Fair Catches
If you were wondering why Fritz ordered his kickoff returners to call a fair catch even on Ohio State kickoffs that came down short of the end zone, consider the Buckeyes’ statistics through the first three games.
Oregon State, Rutgers and TCU returned eight kickoffs in the field of play and never reached the 25-yard line, the spot teams get the ball if they call fair catch under a new NCAA rule that used to apply only to kickoffs that went into the end zone. Discounting a TCU penalty that backed up the Horned Frogs even further, their average starting position was the 18.
Tulane started at the 25 each time.
“They've done a great job of getting the ball in the field of play with over four seconds of hang time,” Fritz said of Ohio State. “And they have some fast dudes running down the field. We were playing the percentages.”
Fritz was not alone in his strategy. Oregon State called three fair catches in the same situation. Rutgers fair caught all but one.