It was a disappointing 2021 season for Tulane after finishing 2-10, and in conference play they haven’t had a winning record since 2018. Now in 2022, this Tulane team is taking off with a 7-1 record, 4-0 in conference, and ranked for the first time in the nine-year history of the College Football Playoff rankings. This is just the start of a bright future for Tulane.
It starts with the defense making massive strides. In 2021, they had one of the worst defenses, allowing 34 points per game which ranked 116th. It wasn’t great for Chris Hampton in his first season as the defensive coordinator, but now in this second season, massive strides have been made. Now they are allowing only 17.4 points per game, which is 14th in the nation, this includes just 10 against Kansas State. The way they are doing so is with the talent they have on the defensive line, the Green Wave run three linemen and a Joker, and this new scheme is working. Patrick Jenkins, who transferred from TCU after last season, has made a major impact already with his sack and 14 tackles. With the attention Jenkins gets, it frees up the linebackers. The group is led by Dorian Williams and Nick Anderson, who have 58 and 56 tackles with a combined 2.5 sacks.
With the success up front, it is allowing the secondary to play less man coverage and more zone. They have no problem giving up chunk plays, but rarely let it go for any explosive plays. This defensive approach has led to quarterbacks getting impatient and forcing passes, which has led to Tulane securing eight interceptions this season and 24 passes defended. The group has seen more confidence in key players like Jadon Canady, Macon Clark, and Larry Brooks to name a few, and it has translated to them allowing only 184.6 pass yards per game.
Having Michael Pratt come back this season was massive for their offense. Since 2020 he has shown steady improvement each season and just last year completed 57.6% of his passes for 2,381 yards and 21 touchdowns, but did have eight interceptions. Pratt has stepped up his game this season though, completing 67.5% of his passes so far for 1,718 yards, 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Pratt coming back has allowed the Green Wave to let their redshirt freshman quarterbacks Kai Horton and Justin Ibieta learn and grow while seeing some playing time on the field to take over after Pratt departs.
The growth of Pratt is also due to new offensive coordinator, Jim Svoboda. His presence has brought more balance to the offense between the run and the pass, which has opened up more play-action. Svoboda has brought the West Coast system to Tulane, and it has kept opposing defenses unbalanced. The other key is how he has gotten more receivers involved. The group is led by Shae Wyatt who has 363 yards, Jha’Quan Jackson with 326 yards, and Duece Watts with 312 yards. They make up just a combined 59 receptions out of the team’s total 157, as 20 players have seen receptions this season.
To run play-action efficiently, it also helps when you have a strong running back to rely on. Tyjae Spears came off a 2021 season that saw him rush for 863 yards and nine touchdowns over 129 attempts. Through the 2022 season so far, he has already matched the nine rushing touchdowns and has 588 yards on 120 attempts. Spears has also seen an increase in the receiving game to open the Tulane offense up, as he has 16 receptions for 203 yards compared to 19 receptions for 145 yards last year. Once Spears departs for the NFL, Iverson Celestine looks to be the running back that will fill the role. Celestine has the third most rushing yards on the team behind Spears and Pratt with 210 over 52 attempts along with two touchdowns. He is a physical runner with room to continue to develop and lead the group going forward.
It also reflects on how well this team is coached by Willie Fritz. They have the ninth least penalties per game, and are ranked 13th with the least giveaways per game. This way of coaching, along with the new offensive and defensive schemes, should have Tulane trending in the right direction for years to come.