The 2017 Tulane Green Wave season ended in heartbreak. Needing a win in their final regular season game to become bowl eligible, Tulane Quarterback Jon Banks scrambled for and looked to have found the end zone on the final play of the game to give the Green Wave their sixth win of the year. Instead, the call was that Banks was stopped just inches short of the goal line. Upon further review, the call was surprisingly upheld and the play became a defining moment of the season.
The 2017 SMU football game was not the only game that left the Wave wondering “what if?”
Games against FIU and Cincinnati had also been inexplicable losses that cost the Wave a chance at playing in Tulane’s first bowl game since the 2013-14 season. A confident Green Wave team headed to Miami on a two-game winning streak to play a supposedly inferior FIU team and proceeded to get punched in the mouth and lose 23-10.
The Wave were once again favorites to beat an eventual 4-8 Cincinnati team on homecoming in NOLA but a missed chipshot field goal as time expired cost Tulane the game. Any of the aforementioned losses would have sent Tulane to a bowl game and if the Wave could have pulled it out in each of those contests it would have meant a spectacular 8-4 season for Willie Frtiz and the Wave in only Fritz’s second season.
Now, as the 2018 season has very much so not gone according to plan for Fritz, Tulane already has some games that the team may look back on and compare to the 2017 season.
This year’s game at UAB feels extremely similar to the 2017 FIU game as Coach Fritz took his team into a supposedly inferior Conference USA team’s stadium, but once again could not leave with a victory.
The game against SMU this past Saturday left the Wave with what must have been a very similar feeling as last year’s SMU game. A lackluster offensive performance was masked by a solid defensive performance by Tulane for about 58 minutes and 30 seconds of the game. The Tulane defense got some key stops late when they needed to and even contributed nine points with a safety and an interception returned for a touchdown. However, with under two minutes left to play and needing just one more stop, the defense gave up a 67-yard touchdown pass. A late desperation drive by the Green Wave ended with QB Jon Banks getting strip-sacked at mid-field and the Green Wave saw their record fall to 2-5.
As sophomore defensive end Cameron Sample pointed out after the game, the Green Wave still “has the chance to achieve the goals (that Tulane) wants to.” While he’s not wrong, Tulane’s path to a bowl game is now increasingly more difficult after the loss to SMU.
The Green Wave will still be favorites to win two of their remaining five games (versus ECU and Navy). They will definitely be underdogs, however, when they take on Houston and USF and the upcoming game at Tulsa is looking like a toss-up.
To go bowling the Green Wave will need to take care of business against ECU, Navy, and Tulsa, and also pull off an upset versus either Houston or USF. While it is doable, it’s not likely.
Tulane fans have seen a major regression in their teams’ play in year three under Willie Fritz. Year three is typically where schools expect coaches to produce results and a season where the Wave were looking like they should go 6-6 or 7-5 is now looking more like 4-8 or 5-7 or even maybe 3-9.
Many fans on social media were calling for Fritz’s firing after the disappointment against SMU. However, Fritz was given a contract extension this past offseason that upped his buyout and will make him much more difficult to fire than he previously would have been.
Personally, I don’t believe that firing Fritz is the answer right now. Fritz has proven that he can win at Sam Houston St. and Georgia Southern and while those are smaller jobs than Tulane, Fritz has not just simply forgotten how to be a good football coach this season. Tulane is also arguably the most difficult job in the AAC and hitting the reset button every three years has not worked out well in the past. Finally, Fritz did bring in Tulane’s highest-rated recruiting class ever just this past season and despite the current struggles, just last year Fritz did take Tulane to its second-best record in the last 14 seasons.
What needs to change, in my opinion, is Fritz’s supporting cast. This past offseason Tulane hung its hat on the fact that the Green Wave were one of only four teams in the nation that have had the exact same coaching staff for the past three years in a row.
The offensive playcalling has been extremely suspect and bland as the Green Wave have attempted to transition from a triple-option offense to a run-pass option offense. Offensive playcalling on Tulane’s second to last drive also may have cost the Green Wave the game. Needing just one first down to be able to take a knee and seal the game, the Green Wave offense played extremely conservative and could not pick up the first down. It was a clear example of a team playing not to lose instead of playing to win and, as it often does, it cost Tulane the game. A change could be in order at Offensive Coordinator for the Wave.
The offensive line, which was the preseason favorite to be one of Tulane’s strongest units, has also had massive struggles this season so a change in Offensive Line Coach could also be in place for the Wave if they want to make improvements next season.
Tulane will head to Tulsa next week as two-point underdogs as the Green Wave look to improve their record to just 3-5 on the season.