2013 Tulane football's 10 things to know: Baby steps

Chris Graythen

Tulane improved a little bit in Curtis Johnson's first year as head coach. The Green Wave should improve a little bit more in 2013. The goals are modest, but the schedule is pretty easy. Can Tulane top four wins for the first time in eight years?

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. Be better than you were before

It sounds like the advice of a Self-Help guru on a Lifetime movie, but when you take on a job like Tulane -- when you willingly agree to coach a team that, in the seven years before you arrived, ranked 101st, 102nd, 99th, 113th, 115th, 106th and 114th in the F/+ rankings -- you need to set pretty simple goals.

And if the goal was simply to be better in 2012 than they were in 2011, then the Green Wave succeeded in Curtis Johnson's first year in charge. You had to squint to find the improvement (Tulane moved from 113th in Off. F/+ to 112th, stayed at 102nd in Def. F/+, and improved from 110th to 48th in Special Teams F/+), but it was there if you looked for it, especially when quarterback Ryan Griffin was healthy. (When he wasn't? Hoo boy, did things fall apart.)

Plus, Johnson brought in a few pretty highly-touted pieces in his first two recruiting classes, and Tulane got an invitation to move from Conference USA to Whatever We'll Be Calling The Big East Soon. Granted, Johnson needs a lot more pieces. And granted, the invitation of Tulane to the Big East is apparently the step that made the Catholic 7 officially decide to break apart from its football-playing members. But still, if you're a Tulane fan, you have slightly more reason to see hope in the future than you did this time last year. And for now, that simply has to be considered enough.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 111
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
1-Sep Rutgers 12-24 L 21.9 - 32.0 L
8-Sep at Tulsa 10-45 L 10.3 - 42.4 L
22-Sep Ole Miss 0-39 L 4.7 - 32.5 L
29-Sep UL-Monroe 10-63 L 1.6 - 42.5 L
6-Oct at UL-Lafayette 13-41 L 10.3 - 25.2 L
13-Oct SMU 27-26 W 36.0 - 32.8 W
20-Oct at UTEP 20-24 L 30.9 - 36.1 L
27-Oct UAB 55-45 W 41.5 - 42.9 L
3-Nov Rice 47-49 L 34.2 - 31.0 W
10-Nov at Memphis 23-37 L 21.2 - 37.5 L
17-Nov East Carolina 23-28 L 13.2 - 28.9 L
24-Nov at Houston 17-40 L 17.6 - 33.5 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 21.4 99 38.4 118
Adj. Points Per Game 20.3 118 34.8 111

2. Tulane's offense was decent with Ryan Griffin

It is difficult to know what will happen when a starting quarterback gets hurt. Some schools are equipped with multiple quarterbacks of pretty similar talent and can replace a starter reasonably effectively. Some have backups with decent, divergent skill sets that force an opponent to account for a different style of ball, which offers a temporary scouting advantage for the team with the injured QB. And some teams ... just don't have a backup quarterback.

When Ryan Griffin was healthy last season, Tulane's offense was downright decent. Not amazing, but not bad. Griffin completed 62 percent of his passes, threw 20 touchdown passes and posted some gaudy totals against bad defenses -- 466 yards and five touchdowns versus UAB, 476 and four versus Rice, 363 and two versus UTEP. But at near the beginning of the season, as Tulane was still growing accustomed to its new offense, Griffin went down with a shoulder injury in the second quarter of the Tulsa game and missed most of four games. When he was out, Tulane's offense was one of the worst that the FBS level has ever seen.

Adj. Points Per Game with Ryan Griffin (8 games): 27.1 Adj. PPG
Adj. Points Per Game without Griffin (4 games): 6.7 Adj. PPG

True freshman Devin Powell finished the Tulsa game, going a reasonably decent 8-for-16 for 110 yards and a touchdown. He started against Ole Miss but injured his toe and completed just 22 of 41 passes for 145 yards and three picks. Next up: D.J. Ponder, known more for his prowess as a closer (2.53 ERA, 13 saves for the Tulane baseball team). He completed 35 of 83 passes (a dreadful 42 percent completion rate) for 333 yards and five picks in blowout losses to UL-Monroe and UL-Lafayette. These two former directional schools with a lower conference standing than Tulane outscored the Green Wave, 104-23.

And then Griffin came back, started completing passes to the right team, and Tulane knocked off SMU and UAB and barely lost to UTEP, Rice and East Carolina.

The good news: There were signs that this offense could be interesting if captained by a decent quarterback.

The bad news: Griffin was a senior. He will be plying his trade, probably, as a backup in the NFL next year.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 112 105 115 97
RUSHING 123 124 118 124
PASSING 33 87 98 83
Standard Downs 100 114 94
Passing Downs 96 100 95
Redzone 116 116 116
Q1 Rk 110 1st Down Rk 119
Q2 Rk 123 2nd Down Rk 120
Q3 Rk 93 3rd Down Rk 86
Q4 Rk 119

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Ryan Griffin 245 394 2,771 62.2% 20 11 21 5.1% 6.3
D.J. Ponder


35 83 333 42.2% 2 5 3 3.5% 3.6
Devin Powell 6'3, 215 RSFr. ** (5.4) 30 57 255 52.6% 1 3 7 10.9% 3.1
Nick Montana 6'3, 215 Jr. *** (5.5)








3. Hello, Nick Montana

Both Griffin (bad) and Ponder (good) are gone, and this spring saw a pretty impressive battle between Powell, who received a medical redshirt after barely playing last year, and a name you probably recognize: Nick Montana. Montana was last seen backing up Keith Price at Washington; he completed 20 of 36 passes for 152 yards, three touchdowns and a pick while subbing in for an injured Price in 2011, then transferred at the end of the season. He and Powell finished the spring as Co-No. 1s on the post-spring depth chart (PDF). Regardless of who wins the job, one has to assume there will be general competence. Montana showed it in Seattle, and Powell looked perfectly decent against Tulsa before his trainwreck against Ole Miss. It's a shame that we only got to see Griffin run Johnson's offense for one year, but the drop-off at the quarterback position shouldn't be as dramatic as last year's numbers might make one assume.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Orleans Darkwa RB 6'0, 210 Sr. *** (5.6) 82 247 3.0 3.5 3 -19.9
Rob Kelley RB 5'10, 225 Jr. *** (5.5) 81 286 3.5 2.4 0 -14.7
Danté Butler RB 5'10, 208 Jr. *** (5.6) 40 157 3.9 2.8 0 -4.8
Josh Rounds RB 5'10, 190 So. ** (5.3) 16 34 2.1 1.4 0 -5.4
Ryan Griffin QB 11 27 2.5 1.2 0 -3.5
Devin Powell QB 6'3, 215 RSFr. ** (5.4) 7 12 1.7 4.1 0 -2.4
Lazedrick Thompson RB 6'0, 206 RSFr. *** (5.5)





Sherman Badle RB 5'10, 190 Fr. *** (5.5)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Ryan Grant WR-Z 6'1, 190 Sr. ** (5.3) 129 76 1149 58.9% 8.9 25.4% 52.7% 8.9 138.6
Rob Kelley RB 5'10, 225 Jr. *** (5.5) 60 46 340 76.7% 5.7 11.8% 65.0% 5.6 41.0
Xavier Rush WR-X 6'2, 194 Jr. ** (5.2) 58 43 520 74.1% 9.0 11.4% 46.6% 9.8 62.7
Justyn Shackleford WR-X 5'11, 171 Jr. *** (5.5) 54 28 431 51.9% 8.0 10.7% 48.1% 8.1 52.0
Marc Edwards WR 6'2, 172 So. ** (5.4) 48 23 264 47.9% 5.5 9.5% 60.4% 5.5 31.8
Wilson Van Hooser WR-Z 6'0, 192 Sr. *** (5.5) 27 11 233 40.7% 8.6 5.3% 59.3% 8.6 28.1
Danté Butler RB 5'10, 208 Jr. *** (5.6) 23 17 74 73.9% 3.2 4.5% 52.2% 3.3 8.9
Orleans Darkwa RB 6'0, 210 Sr. *** (5.6) 19 15 78 78.9% 4.1 3.7% 47.4% 4.1 9.4
Derrick Strozier WR 5'8, 183 Sr. ** (5.1) 19 11 60 57.9% 3.2 3.7% 47.4% 3.7 7.2
Josh Rounds RB 5'10, 190 So. ** (5.3) 18 14 78 77.8% 4.3 3.6% 77.8% 5.2 9.4
Matt Marfisi TE 6'6, 250 Jr. ** (5.3) 17 8 20 47.1% 1.2 3.4% 52.9% 1.3 2.4
Sydie London TE 6'2, 234 So. NR 14 6 38 42.9% 2.7 2.8% 57.1% 2.8 4.6
Brent Comardelle WR 6'0, 192 Sr. ** (5.4) 10 4 53 40.0% 5.3 2.0% 60.0% 5.3 6.4
Evan Tatford TE 7 6 20 85.7% 2.9 1.4% 100.0% 1.7 2.4
Stephen Barnett RB 3 1 -5 33.3% -1.7 0.6% 0.0% -2.0 -0.6

4. Ryan Grant is a keeper

Curtis Johnson was the receivers coach for the New Orleans Saints for six seasons and was a college receivers coach at Idaho, San Diego State, SMU, California and Miami before that. Offensive coordinator Eric Price was his father Mike's coordinator at UTEP for four years and has "receivers coach" on his resume as well. So it kind of goes without saying that they want to throw the ball as much as humanly possible.

That's good in a couple of different ways: First, it allows them to somewhat ignore the fact that the run personnel is pretty awful. Tulane's offensive line couldn't open running lanes to save its life, and Green Wave running backs weren't very good at taking advantage of the holes that did exist. But in a reasonably pro-style, quick-passing attack, Tulane was able to take advantage of half-decent pass protection, Griffin's arm, and Ryan Grant's receiving ability.

Grant was not the most efficient weapon in the world, but he was one of the nation's better deep threats, averaging enough yards per catch (15.1) to offset a sub-60 percent catch rate. Toss in intriguing junior Xavier Rush (the high-efficiency, low-explosiveness complement to Grant), some nice catching capabilities from the running backs, and the simple fact that nearly everybody returns from last year's receiving corps, and you've got a pretty solid unit here. It would help to get something, anything, from the run game, but ... baby steps. If there is competence at the quarterback position, Tulane should once again pass for a pretty high volume.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 80.4 2.61 1.10 25.8% 64.0% 24.6% 110.0 4.3% 5.6%
Rank 121 105 124 124 87 115 52 54 48
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Eric Jones RT 35 career starts
Zach Morgan C 6'3, 300 Sr. 28 career starts
Sean Donnelly LT 6'8, 311 Jr. ** (5.3) 12 career starts
Adam Skidmore LG 6'6, 300 Jr. ** (5.1) 12 career starts
Mike Henry C 6'5, 290 Sr. ** (5.4) 12 career starts
Rio Mares RG 6'4, 302 Sr. *** (5.5) 11 career starts
Alex Paul LG 6'6, 326 So. ** (5.4) 1 career start
Todd Jacquet LT 6'5, 282 So. *** (5.5)
Nate Skold RG 6'6, 290 So. ** (5.3)
Arturo Uzdavinis RT 6'6, 288 So. ** (5.3)
Bob Bradley LG 6'3, 272 So. ** (5.3)
Preston Paine C 6'3, 257 Jr. NR
Nathan Shienle LG 6'5, 313 RSFr. ** (5.4)
Colton Hanson RG 6'5, 304 RSFr. ** (5.4)
Kenneth Santa Marina OL 6'7, 330 Fr. *** (5.7)
Chris Taylor OL 6'2, 305 Fr. *** (5.6)

5. Experience on experience

Tulane had the worst line in the country when it comes to creating opportunities for its backs (Opportunity Rate) and one of the worst when it came to blocking on run-friendly downs (Standard Downs Line Yards Per Carry) and avoiding tackles for loss on the ground (Stuff Rate). With a bit more competence, perhaps Johnson and Price would be willing to call for a few more handoffs. And if experience cures incompetence to some degree, one could expect improvement here in 2013. Three-year starting tackle Eric Jones is gone, but everybody else returns on a line that introduces two reasonably highly-touted redshirt freshmen and two very highly-touted true freshmen. WIth only two projected senior starters (Morgan and Mares) and youth on the left side (Jacquet and Shienle could end up starting), this could turn into a downright solid line by 2014. So there's that.

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 117 113 112 113
RUSHING 116 113 107 114
PASSING 98 114 107 117
Standard Downs 116 106 112
Passing Downs 109 111 109
Redzone 112 102 109
Q1 Rk 109 1st Down Rk 105
Q2 Rk 110 2nd Down Rk 119
Q3 Rk 121 3rd Down Rk 103
Q4 Rk 84

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 90.6 3.19 3.28 43.6% 68.9% 19.0% 90.3 5.0% 4.4%
Rank 106 97 66 115 74 69 79 49 100
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Austen Jacks DE 12 33.5 4.7% 10 5 0 0 0 0
Kenny Welcome DT 6'2, 290 Jr. ** (5.4) 12 19.5 2.8% 3 1.5 0 2 2 0
Julius Warmsley DE 6'2, 271 Sr. *** (5.5) 11 19.0 2.7% 6 3 0 0 1 0
Andre Robinson DE 6'1, 235 Jr. ** (5.3) 12 16.0 2.3% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Royce LaFrance DE 6'3, 239 So. *** (5.5) 12 16.0 2.3% 2.5 1 0 1 0 0
Corey Redwine NT 6'0, 294 So. ** (5.4) 11 15.5 2.2% 1 0 0 0 1 0
Calvin Thomas DT 6'3, 279 So. ** (5.2) 12 15.0 2.1% 2 2 0 1 0 0
Aaron Bryant DE 6'2, 249 So. ** (5.4) 10 14.0 2.0% 2 1 0 1 0 1
Wendell Beckwith DE 6'2, 225 Sr. ** (5.4) 5 3.5 0.5% 1 0 0 0 0 1
Kerchal Byrd DE 6'0, 224 Sr. ** (5.4) 10 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Devin Williams DE 6'2, 250 Sr. *** (5.5) 8 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Davenport NT 6'4, 330 Sr. ***** (6.1)

Tanzel Smart DT 6'2, 290 Fr. *** (5.5)






6. All-or-nothing on the line

Tulane's defensive line was pretty decent at generating pass pressure on standard downs and getting into the backfield against the run. It also got sliced up a ton by opponents' run blocking and gave quarterbacks too much time on passing downs. There were some notable strengths here, but not nearly enough of them. Still, this was probably the most impressive (relatively speaking) piece of an incredibly unimpressive Tulane defense. And despite the loss of end Austen Jacks, it could potentially expect improvement in 2013 thanks to maturity and, in part, one specific addition.

7. A giant (literally) addition

Chris Davenport was a five-star signee for LSU in the 2009 recruiting class, the No. 25 overall senior in the country. He is ridiculously big and athletic; he also never really found a spot in the trenches for LSU, on either side of the ball. One shouldn't expect Davenport to suddenly become the blue-chipper he was supposed to be, but it is certainly reasonable to expect him to hold his own on the depth chart (he was listed as a co-starter at nose tackle, with Corey Redwine, at the end of spring, which isn't bad considering he didn't transfer to Tulane until January) and improve Tulane's overall level of play at tackle. If he can simply occupy blockers and free up linebackers to make tackles. Tulane's Opportunity Rate should improve quite a bit. That shouldn't be too much to ask.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Zach Davis MLB 6'0, 214 Sr. ** (5.4) 11 64.0 9.0% 5 2 1 3 0 0
Darryl Farley SLB 12 48.0 6.8% 4.5 1 0 2 1 0
Matthew Bailey SLB 5'11, 203 Jr. *** (5.5) 12 28.5 4.0% 2 0 2 4 0 0
Dominique Robertson MLB 6'1, 191 Sr. ** (5.3) 10 27.0 3.8% 2.5 1 0 0 1 0
Kyle Davis WLB 5'11, 204 Sr. *** (5.5) 12 22.0 3.1% 2 0.5 0 1 0 0
Logan Hamilton LB 5'10, 216 Sr. ** (5.2) 11 17.5 2.5% 5.5 0 0 0 0 0
Cameron DeJean SLB 6'2, 210 Jr. *** (5.5) 7 9.5 1.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Taylor Bullock WLB 6'2, 231 Jr. ** (5.3) 12 6.5 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Edward Williams LB 6'3, 230 Fr. *** (5.7)






Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Darion Monroe FS 5'10, 190 So. **** (5.8) 12 79.0 11.2% 2.5 0 0 0 0 3
Ryan Travis CB 12 43.5 6.1% 3.5 1 2 9 1 1
Shakiel Smith SS 12 43.5 6.1% 2 0 1 5 0 1
Lorenzo Doss CB 5'11, 168 So. *** (5.5) 12 38.5 5.4% 0 0 5 2 0 1
Jordan Batiste CB 5'8, 169 So. *** (5.5) 12 36.0 5.1% 1 0 1 8 0 0
Sam Scofield SS 6'1, 183 Jr. ** (5.3) 10 26.5 3.7% 1 0 2 1 1 0
Devon Walker S 2 10.0 1.4% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Alex Lauricella CB 11 7.5 1.1% 0 0 0 1 0 1
Brandon LeBeau SS 6'0, 198 Jr. ** (5.2) 12 7.5 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Richard Carthon DB 5'7, 196 So. NR 12 5.5 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Renaldo Thomas S 6'4, 204 Jr. ** (5.4) 10 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Derrick Strozier CB 5'8, 183 Sr. ** (5.1) 10 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 1 0
L.J. Parker SS 5'11, 183 Sr. ** (5.2) 10 1.0 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jordan Sullen CB 6'0, 197 Sr. ** (5.3)






8. The secondary should come around eventually

Three of Tulane's more impressive recent recruits got a lot more playing time than they were probably ready for in 2012; four-star signee Darion Monroe was asked to almost immediately captain the secondary, while three-star corners Lorenzo Doss and Jordan Batiste were thrown into the deep end as well. Doss and Batiste had their moments -- they combined for six interceptions and 10 passes broken up -- but a cursory glance at Tulane's pass defense rankings suggests there is a long way to go here, especially considering Tulane ranked 114th in Passing S&P+ despite a decent pass rush. There are no five-star transfers ready to plump up this unit's capabilities, and the secondary does have to deal with the loss of three of its top seven players, four of eight if you count Kyle Davis, who is now at linebacker. But last year's struggles could pay off at some point if Monroe, Doss and Batiste indeed have the potential the recruiting services said they do.

(By the way, Devon Walker is doing pretty well, all things considered.)

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Peter Picerelli 6'1, 190 So. 68 41.0 2 13 16 42.6%
Jonathan Ginsburgh 5'11, 204 Sr. 3 43.3 0 1 0 33.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Cairo Santos 5'8, 160 Sr. 55 64.1 31 56.4%
Ryan Rome 1 60 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Cairo Santos 5'8, 160 Sr. 26-27 9-9 100.0% 12-12 100.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Josh Rounds KR 5'11, 190 So. 23 18.4 0
Richard Carthon KR 5'7, 196 So. 9 20.3 0
Dante Butler KR 5'10, 208 Jr. 5 16.8 0
Derrick Strozier PR 5'8, 183 Sr. 10 8.1 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 48
Net Punting 44
Net Kickoffs 12
Touchback Pct 12
Field Goal Pct 1
Kick Returns Avg 102
Punt Returns Avg 26

9. Cairo Santos is awesome

One thing Tulane didn't have to worry about in 2012: place-kicking. If the Green Wave offense was able to maneuver its way inside the opponent's 30, it was probably getting points out of the trip thanks to Cairo Santos. Santos has had an odd career to date; he made 13 of 16 field goals as a freshman, made just 11 of 18 as a sophomore, and didn't miss a single field goal last year. He knocked in an absurd 12 of 12 kicks from more than 40 yards, even bombing in a 57-yarder at some point. Kickers are weird -- for all we know, Santos has some allergy to odd-numbered years -- but between Santos (who is also a hell of a kickoffs guy, to no one's surprise), punter Peter Picerelli, and a decent punt return man in Derrick Strozier, special teams should be a Tulane strength for the second straight year.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2012 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug Jackson State NR
7-Sep South Alabama 119
14-Sep at Louisiana Tech 89
21-Sep at Syracuse 55
28-Sep at UL-Monroe 86
5-Oct North Texas 112
12-Oct East Carolina 81
26-Oct Tulsa 56
2-Nov at Florida Atlantic 116
9-Nov at UT-San Antonio 114
23-Nov UTEP 108
30-Nov at Rice 92
Five-Year F/+ Rk 118
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 78
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -9 / -5.5
TO Luck/Game -1.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 17 (9, 8)
Yds/Pt Margin** +2.4

10. Wins are available

Tulane returns a load of experience, welcomes some three- (and five-) star guys to the fold, and might end up with a competent quarterback despite Ryan Griffin's departure. How much improvement do you figure that's worth? Because if the Green Wave can just improve to the No. 95-100 range in the F/+ rankings, they could pull off a bowl bid.

No, seriously. Look at the schedule. Tulane plays five teams projected at 108th or worse in 2013, plus Jackson State, plus four more teams projected no better than 81st. Granted, of the nine weaker FBS teams on the schedule, Tulane only gets four at home, but this is a schedule custom-made for a decent win total. The goal probably shouldn't be six wins -- it's hard to justify that with this defense, if nothing else -- but this team has won just four games in two years and hasn't won more than four in a season since 2004. Again, it's all about doing better next year than you did last year. Tulane should be able to pull that off again in 2013.

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