SEPTEMBER 07, 2017

Disciplined Navy good gauge of Tulane's progress

Conference opener represents challenge, opportunity

By Les East

It was some 20 years ago and Tulane was preparing to play one of the service academies.

I asked Coach Tommy Bowden if it was true that the teams from the service academies -- Army, Navy and Air Force -- really were more disciplined than most college football teams.

"If they aren't," Bowden quipped as he closed one eye and kept the other open, "I'm sleeping with one eye open."

Yes, teams from the service academies, such as the Navy team that will host the Green Wave on Saturday afternoon, are more disciplined than their other college counterparts. After all, they're training to be soldiers.

"Navy is a real disciplined team," Tulane quarterback Jonathan Banks said. "They have that six o'clock march so we have to be up and on it."

Banks was asked tongue-in-cheek if he gets up at 6 a.m. to march.

"I'm not up at six o'clock marching," he replied, "but I'm up at six o'clock watching film."

Banks' teammates on defense have been looking at lots of film on the Midshipmen's offense, which Tulane coach Willie Fritz called "the under-center triple-option."

Fritz's offense is a spread option that has some similarities, but more differences from the Middies. He said the under-center triple option is run by only the service academies and Georgia Tech among FBS programs.

"They've got their own cult," Fritz joked.

Navy's discipline and patience create headaches for defenses as the Middies constantly run the option, probing the defense and judiciously utilizing all three options -- fullback dive, quarterback keeper and halfback pitch -- for incremental gains while searching for the periodic long gainer.

"This is going to be a pretty quick game," Fritz said. "It won't be a 3 1/2-hour game."

Safety Roderic Teamer Jr. said the Green Wave defender used their extra time during the spring and summer to study ahead for the Navy offense.

"Nobody runs the option quite like Navy," Teamer said. "It's like a war of attrition. Navy comes out and runs 70 to 90 plays on you and you can stop it 70 times but that one play where you don't read your keys they score and one score can cost you the game so you've really got to be focused against them."

Tulane led the Middies well into the fourth quarter last season at Yulman Stadium, clinging to a one-point lead after missing a 45-yard field goal that would have expanded the margin. Navy immediately drove to a touchdown and two-point conversion with 2:57 left, which made the difference in a 21-14 Navy victory.

"It's hard to beat these guys scoring one or two touchdowns," Fritz said. "Our margin for error is very slim. We've got to be on point every single play. We've got to do a great job with ball security and takeaways and do a good job matching them in moving the chains."

The Green Wave's 43-14 victory over Grambling in the season opener last Saturday in Yulman Stadium suggested Tulane might be better, perhaps even significantly better, than it was last season when it finished 4-8.

This performance will be a better indicator of where this season might be headed.

"First conference game, Navy, a great opponent," wide receiver Terren Encalade said. "Coach always talks about that one game that changes a program. We feel like Navy might be that game. I feel like we're on the verge of changing the program."