SEPTEMBER 03, 2017

Tulane showed much-needed balance in beating Grambling

But next week's game will tell us much more

By Les East

So what exactly are we to make of Tulane's 43-14 victory against Grambling?

The opponent was an FCS team, a good FCS team but an FCS team nonetheless, so being victorious doesn't mean a whole lot.

True.

But a win is a win is a win is a win. Plus it was a pretty dominant win, so in that regard it is significant.

True too.

A loss or even a sloppy, narrow victory would have been discouraging, so taking care of business the way the Green Wave did is encouraging.

True again.

The bottom line here is Tulane really couldn't have asked for much more out of its Saturday night performance at Yulman Stadium, but the season-opening victory will be quickly eclipsed -- either positively or negatively -- by whatever happens in the American Athletic Conference opener at Navy next Saturday.

But in the meantime, it's still worth dissecting the opener a bit.

Forget the opponent and forget the margin. It's how the margin was accomplished that's most notable.

If the Green Wave are going to be better than they were when they finished 4-8 a year ago they will have to be more balanced. That's no secret.

It means being solid on both offense and defense and being able to run the ball and throw it as well as making it harder for opponents to succeed whether they're trying to run it or throw it. And they need to be effective on special teams.

Tulane was a balanced football team against Grambling.

Let's start with the defense, which was the stronger unit last season and therefore the one least concerning coming into this season.

The Green Wave forced punts on four of the Tigers' first five possessions and the other possession ended with an interception by junior cornerback Donnie Lewis Jr. Grambling didn't score until midway through the third quarter and totaled just 225 yards.

The defense has the benefit of experience as senior cornerback Parry Nickerson made his 34th career start, senior safety Jarrod Franklin made his 25th consecutive start, senior tackle Ade Aruna made his 19th straight start and junior safety Roderic Teamer made his 13th consecutive start.

But when you were 4-8 the previous season you need more than just experience, you also need an influx of new players that elevate the talent level to complement the best experienced players.

The Green Wave will lean on several newcomers and 17 players made their debuts Saturday, including four starters -- most notably junior transfer quarterback Jonathan Banks

Coach Willie Fritz is best known for the running attack that his spread-option scheme produces, but Banks is being counted on to significantly upgrade the nation's least efficient passing game a year ago.

So far, plenty good for Banks, who accounted for four touchdowns -- three passing and one rushing. He completed 10-of-15 passes for 185 yards and rushed 16 times for 69 yards. That's balance.

It was encouraging that a variety of playmakers supplemented Banks' work. Banks' touchdown passes went to three different players -- junior wide receiver Terren Encalade, senior running back Dontrell Hilliard and sophomore wide receiver Darnell Mooney. Banks was joined by two other scoring rushers in Encalade and sophomore running back Darius Bradwell.

Overall Tulane had good balance in its 481 yards -- 296 rushing and 185 passing

The special teams were OK. Senior running back Sherman Badie returned the second-half kickoff 52 yards to set up a touchdown and redshirt freshman Coby Neenan kicked a 21-yard field goal but missed his last two extra-point tries.

Teams have 24-hour rules that allow them to dwell on the outcome of a game -- good or bad -- for about a day before turning their focus to the next one.

It's about time to start thinking about Navy.