2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: Tulane had a bumpy ride in 2011 as it experienced a mid-year coaching change amid a lousy start which only worsened as the season progressed, as the Green Wave finished with a 2-11 overall record.
Coach Bob Toledo started his fifth season at Tulane by leading his team to a victory over SE Louisiana (47-33) at home. The Green Wave were buried by Tulsa (31-3) the next time they took the field, but looked to have fixed the issues in their impressive rout of UAB (49-10) on the road.
Tulane lost its next six games though, before Toledo's forced resignation. Interim head coach Mark Hutson was unable to lead the program to a victory in the remaining three games. Aside from its close battle with Syracuse (37-34), Tulane lost by double-digit margins in every game of its losing streak, which included league bouts with Houston (73-17) and Texas-El Paso (44-7).
New Orleans native Curtis Johnson was hired in the off-season to take the reigns of the program with the goal of returning it to its first bowl game since 2002. Johnson spent the past six seasons as a wide receivers coach for the New Orleans Saints. However, Johnson has his work cut out for him, as the program now heads into 2012 with a nine-game losing streak in tow.
OFFENSE: Tulane's offense, which was 105th in scoring offense (21.1 ppg) last year, has been transformed by its new coaching staff into a pro-style offense. Newly added offensive coordinator Eric Price has an experienced leader to rely upon in senior QB Ryan Griffin. The Green Wave's signal-caller has 30 career starts under his belt and finished last season with decent numbers (2,502 yards, 13 TDs, 10 INTs). Redshirt freshman Leon Blouin IV is next in line behind Griffin.
The Green Wave's offense will be more dangerous with a healthy Orleans Darkwa returning to the backfield. The junior tailback was third in the C-USA last seasons in rushing yards per game (71.1) and contributed three 100-yard games despite battling injuries consistently. Sophomores Dante Butler and Robert Kelley are alternative options at halfback and should see some time in the new system which utilizes the running backs in the passing game more. The rebuilding process will bring some of Tulane's younger and less known players to the surface quickly.
"The young guys really want to play and Coach CJ has talked about this isn't going to be a redshirt program, " said Darkwa. "So these freshmen are working hard to learn what they have to do to get on the field."
The WR trio of Wilson Van Hooser, Justyn Shackelford, and Xavier Rush stayed intact. Van Hooser's team-highs of 487 yards and four touchdown catches could grow with Ryan Grant back in the lineup to demand the attention of opposing safeties. Grant missed all of 2011 after sustaining a season-ending injury in the season opener versus SE Louisiana.
The offensive line returns only two starters, but the blocking could see improvement in the new offensive system.
DEFENSE: Tulane's defense allowed nearly more points (37.5 per game) than any other team in the NCAA in 2011. Jon Sumrall and Lionel Washington have implemented changes as the new joint defensive coordinators.
Linebacker Trent Mackey (145 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) will be at the center of the new system after an All-Conference-USA First-Team performance last season. Mackey's selection as the Conference USA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year has built high expectations around the senior. Darryl Farley and Matthew Bailey will start alongside Mackey.
The defensive line is inexperienced and lacks depth. Austen Jacks (6-3, 247) is the only returning starter from last season's defensive front. Julius Warmsley (6-2, 281), Kenny Welcome (6-2, 295), and Corey Redwine (6-1, 304) are far from seasoned veterans, but they will provide great size up front for the revamped defensive unit. Senior CB Ryan Travis led the team in interceptions (four) in 2011 and will be a key player in the secondary once again. Safety Shakiel Smith also provides experience and has a good nose for the ball. Kyle Davis is expected to start at free safety in his first season at the position since making the move from wide receiver. True freshman Jordan Batiste (5-9, 170) is slotted to start at cornerback opposite of Travis.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Tulane returns both aspects of its kicking game with Cairo Santos and Jonathan Ginsburgh back. Last season, Santos made 11-of-18 field goal attempts and 33-of-34 PATs while Ginsburgh averaged 41.7 yards per punt. Derrick Strozier and Robert Kelley are the top options for Tulane's new special teams coordinator Barry Lamb in the return game.
OUTLOOK: The Green Wave are returning a strong portion of their talent from 2011's team that disappointed fans with a sixth-place finish in Conference USA's West Division. A new coaching staff and system is a start, but the likelihood of Tulane experiencing an immediate turnaround is not great.
"Coming off whatever the record was last year and what we did, we should be picked last, "said Johnson about his team's last place projection for 2011. "The thing is, that's why I love predictions. All it is a prediction. I predicted sunshine and blue skies all day today and we got a monsoon. I love the challenge of being picked last because what we do now is play with a chip on our shoulder. We have something legitimate to prove. They've got to prove it to themselves and they've got to prove it to us."
Johnson's first trek as head coach will begin with a non-conference schedule that contains Rutgers, Ole Miss, ULM, and Louisiana. The Green Wave will have homefield advantage in 7 of their 12 games and do not have to face the tougher programs of the East Division during the regular season. Tulane has a trip to Houston looming on November 24 for a difficult regular-season finale though.
The Green Wave's roster has potential and strong performers in certain areas, but the team overall has a far way to go before it will be competing for the league's crown. Johnson and his new staff will immediately increase the team's win total, but probably not to a number big enough to warrant a bowl game invitation.
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