Riptide’s Reflections | Good coach, brave coach

Mark Keplinger and Jeremy Rosen

willie fritz
Head Coach Willie Fritz is currently the fifth winningest coach in Tulane’s history. (Courtesy of Parker Waters)

Riptide’s Reflections is The Tulane Hullabaloo’s weekly column talking all things Tulane football. Join us every Wednesday for in-depth coverage, analysis and opinion of the Green Wave.

With the Green Wave starting the season 3-0, and the team clicking on all three phases, this coaching staff deserves a deep dive considering the phenomenal job they have done.

Tulane head football coach Willie Fritz made the biggest gamble of any college football coach last Saturday. Up by seven with just over two minutes left in the game, Fritz ran a quarterback sneak on fourth and one from their own 24-yard line. Despite a dropped snap, Tulane picked up the yard and the victory. Especially given how lockdown Tulane’s defense was, the vast majority of coaches would have punted in this scenario.

I can only think of one other time something like this happened — a 2018 Army-Air Force game where the Black Knights converted their fourth and one. But even that scenario wasn’t as risky, as the ball was near midfield and there were only 17 seconds left in the game. What Fritz did was truly a brave gamble.

Fritz has called his fair share of gambles at Tulane, with some working and others not. In last year’s blowout loss to Ole Miss, Fritz’s call for a surprise onside kick in the second quarter backfired and left the Rebels with a short field.

In 2018, Navy led Tulane 28-21 with less than four minutes to play. Tulane quarterback Justin McMillan drove the team down the field and threw a touchdown with just over 90 seconds to play. Instead of kicking an extra point to tie the game, Fritz elected to go for two and the win. McMillan, rolling left, made an incredible cross body, cross field throw to find his receiver in the end zone. This gutsy call and incredible throw gave Tulane the win and made them bowl eligible.

The next season, in a tie game with Houston with 18 seconds left on the clock from his own 29 yard line, Fritz called for a fake kneel down. Instead, running back Amari Jones would take a hand off on a sweep, where he ran out of bounds just shy of midfield. The very next play, McMillan found Jalen McCleskey on a seam route, and thanks to two mistimed tackles, McCleskey broke free for the walk-off touchdown.

willie fritz
Tulane beat their first Power 5 team in the Fritz era with their 17-10 win over Kansas State. (Courtesy of Willie Fritz)

OK, so this team has the guts to make those big decisions. But this coaching staff has also fixed some long-lingering issues this team has had. 

First is penalties. Last season, Tulane averaged six penalties a game, and there were several incidents throughout last season of penalties coming from undisciplined play. So far this season, the defense has yet to commit a penalty and the team as a whole only commits 4.5 penalties per game, good for 16th best in the nation.

Another area which was improved is the offensive line, who went from giving up an average of 2.8 sacks per game to just one. This is certainly a welcome relief to quarterback Michael Pratt, who has taken plenty of sacks in his previous two campaigns.

One final major area in which to give credit to the coaching staff is defensive depth, especially on the defensive line. In the Kansas State game, players were routinely rotated but there was no drop in quality no matter who was in. In fact, Tulane dominated in the trenches against a good run team. Tulane currently is sixth best in terms of yards allowed per game.

Any good team needs good coaching, and Fritz is certainly displaying the characteristics of a good coach.

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