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Tulane’s Willie Fritz: offensive line needs to play better against Nicholls

September 3, 2018

Although he saw first-game mistakes across the board, coach Willie Fritz had some harsh words for his offensive linemen after reviewing the video from Tulane’s painful overtime loss to Wake Forest.

Given little room to operate, the Green Wave’s trio of Stephon Huderson, Darius Bradwell and Corey Dauphine produced only 77 yards on 25 carries (3.1 average) in a disjointed effort against an active defensive front. It was the lowest rushing total for Tulane’s running backs in Fritz’s 25 games in New Orleans and a long way from the prolific totals they rung up his first two seasons, when the Wave averaged more than 228 yards on the ground.

A repeat performance will not cut it against Nicholls State, which will arrive at Yulman Stadium on Saturday night off the high of a 26-23 overtime victory at Kansas of the Big 12. The Colonels held the Jayhawks to 56 rushing yards, registering six sacks in their first-ever win against a Power Five conference opponent.

“We have to be assignment sound,” Fritz said on the American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference on Monday morning. “We have to do a good job of staying on our blocks. We got whipped a few times up front. A lot of that was technique, just not stepping properly. We need to see some big-time improvement between week 1 and week 2 with our offensive line.”

Tulane rushed for 153 yards overall, but 38 of them came on a nifty, misdirection option pitch to wide receiver Terren Encalade on the first carry of the game. Another 32 came on Jonathan Banks’ pair of scrambles that led to a tying field goal late in the fourth quarter.

The rest of the time, it was a massive struggle. Dauphine’s 10-yard gain in the third quarter was the longest for a running back.

“Wake Forest has a really good defensive line, a lot of movement and penetration, and really good athletes up there,” Fritz said. “They were much better than I anticipated, which is good because we are going to play against another real good defensive line this week.”

One thing he is not worried about is Tulane overlooking its neighbors from Thibodaux. Even before Nicholls State beat Kansas, the Colonels were drawing his full attention under fourth-year coach Tim Rebowe.

Fritz compared Nicholls’ offensive and defensive front favorably to the ones he had when he coached Sam Houston State to the FCS championship game in 2011 and 2012. He admitted he needed to hide a couple of guys against quality competition on those teams, but said the Colonels are athletic and strong at each spot.

“They’ve done a really nice job of putting together an excellent squad, combining a lot of high school kids that have really panned out for them with quite a few transfer guys that are also doing a good job for them,” he said. “They have a good, salty offensive and defensive line and some good skill kids, so this will be a super challenge for us on Saturday.”

Tulane needs to avoid a hangover effect from coming within a play or two of beating Wake Forest and failing. In the recent past, a close call like that would have been a cause for excitement, but the days of moral victories are gone under Fritz.

“It’s frustrating, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “You’ve got to just keep forging ahead when you get these games. Our expectations are very high here. When I first came in, there were very little expectations. Just lining up right and playing hard were a plus to a lot of people, but now we feel like we’re at a point in our program where we need to start winning these games.”

The first step is beating Nicholls State and maintaining Tulane’s perfect all-time record against FCS opponents.

“You just have to keep plugging away and learning from your mistakes and not repeating those mistakes and making plays when you need to,” Fritz said. “I think our guys understand that. Also know that (the Wake Forest loss) was one of 12, not all 12 of the games that we play this season.”

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