This article continues our look at spring football for Army’s 2019 opponents. We enter the season’s second quarter this week with notes about the Tulane Green Wave, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, and Georgia State Panthers.
Determination, toughness and winning led to this day.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) May 6, 2019
Tulane Green Wave
The Green Wave are feeling it after finally getting to the postseason and winning their bowl game in 2018. Head Coach Willie Fritz was known as a turnaround artist before getting to Tulane, and now, as he heads into his fourth season, it looks like he’s got the Green Wave turned and headed in the direction he wants. That starts on defense, where preseason prognosticators are expecting Tulane to put up a legitimately dominant performance in the American Athletic Conference. Hard as it may be to believe, the Green Wave might actually have the best defensive line in the AAC.
Tulane’s questions are all on offense. Last year’s team was explosive but woefully inconsistent. To address this, Fritz hired a new offensive coordinator in Will Hall. The basic zone-read-style scheme will remain in place, and the Green Wave are returning five offensive starters, including incumbent starting QB Justin McMillan. And yet, this still looks like an offense with some issues. McMillan completed some good-looking throws during his team’s spring game, including one 50-yarder, but his offense gave up four turnovers as well, including two pick-sixes. Granted, Tulane’s defense is returning eight starters in 2019. Still, four is a lot of turnovers, and no team in college football can win throwing two pick-sixes per game.
If their new OC can get consistent production from his offense, even with just the occasional explosive play, then Tulane can probably make some noise behind that monster defense. It helps that 2019 looks to be a potentially down year in the AAC-West overall. There is no guarantee that Memphis and Houston will take steps back this season, but both face significant losses, and Houston has a new coach. If Tulane is going to make a move, this really has to be their year.
— Tulane Football Recruiting (@TUFBRecruits) May 6, 2019
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
After a 3-9 finish in 2018, the once proud Western Kentucky Hilltoppers fired Head Coach Mike Sanford and re-hired Tyson Helton, the man who’d been the offensive coordinator under legendary Hilltoppers’ Head Coach Jeff Brohm. Helton had just finished a one-year stint as OC with the Tennessee Volunteers, but his tenure with WKU was recent enough that he actually recruited some of the school’s current seniors.
Helton is an offensive guy who summed up his basic philosophy after the spring game by saying, “When in doubt, throw it deep.” Despite the fact that his team’s defense looked to be a bit ahead of his offense, the two sides in the Hilltoppers’ Red and White game combined for 694 yards of total offense in a truncated game with a whopping 612 coming via the pass. Redshirt sophomore QB Davis Shanley went 9 of 15 passing (60.0%) for 185 yards and 2 touchdowns.
That’s not bad.
Still, the Hilltoppers may well regress, at least initially, in the first year of a new offensive system, especially one where they’re looking to throw it all over the field. WKU’s defense recorded four interceptions during the scrimmage, so there’s some work to do coming out of the spring. However, if Shanley—or whoever winds up starting at quarterback—can complete 60+% of his passes and avoid turnovers, these Hilltoppers could be a fun, explosive team.
If I was a Hilltopper fan, I’d be worried that they threw the ball 80+% of the time by yardage while allowing multiple interceptions, even if the game was just a short scrimmage. Most college teams try to establish the run because most college quarterbacks are just not accurate enough to win games without a consistent running attack. Maybe Helton’s Hilltoppers can be the exception, but it’s a Hell of a tough ask in the first year of his tenure.
— WKU Sports (@WKUSports) May 4, 2019
Georgia State Panthers
Georgia State is coming off a 2-10 season that could put Rice, UConn, and San Jose State on notice for Honorable Mention in College Football’s Most Disappointing Performance category. No one is really challenging UTEP for the actual title, but if we’re looking strictly at second-tier horrible seasons, Georgia State’s 2018 has to be in the conversation. Incumbent starting QB Dan Ellington said during the Panthers’ spring game that he wants to be the best quarterback in the Sun Belt, and sure, we wish him luck, but that would mark an amazing, unprecedented turnaround performance. Here’s a guy who completing just 59.6% of his passes, who also led his team with a whopping 625 yards rushing, and…
Y’know what? Maybe it’s not Ellington’s fault. Running an uptempo offense with a relatively inaccurate quarterback and an ineffectual running game isn’t anyone’s idea of the best way to win football games, and here we are. Perhaps the addition of transfer senior WR Christian Owens makes a difference because Owens is a 6’4” possession receiver who once played for SEC South Carolina, but man, it is not hard to see how this goes wrong all over again.
Georgia State runs a no-huddle set that prizes quick decision-making. The Panthers’ defense seemed to struggle with it during the first part of their scrimmage, but as the game wore on, they adapted and then shut it down. The defense finished with two interceptions, multiple sacks, and a pile of tackles for loss. That’s liable to happen when your team doesn’t have a running game and can’t complete passes fast enough or often enough to keep defenses honest. Once that happens, it’s tough to win.
(Watch till the end for a surprise) pic.twitter.com/YMpBKMa7lJ
— Georgia State Panthers (@GSUPanthers) April 14, 2019
Karen Loftus, “Tulane Spring Game Showcases Big Plays On Both Sides Of The Ball,” WGNO.Com: April 13, 2019.
Guerry Smith, “Dominant D-line? Deep, Talented Tulane Front On Track In Spring Practice,” The Advocate: April 5, 2019.
“Let’s Talk Football – Spring Edition,” TulaneGreenWave.Com: March 12, 2019.
Associated Press, “Western Kentucky hires Tyson Helton as head football coach,” ESPN: November 27, 2018.
Andrew Chernoff, “WKU football wraps up spring practice,” WLKY.Com: April 14, 2019.
Brad Stephens, “Downfield throws, defense’s takeaways highlight Hilltopper spring game,” Bowling Green Daily News: April 13, 2019.
Kelsey Russo, “5 players with strong springs who could help Georgia State,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: April 13, 2019.
Daniel Richardson, “COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Georgia State quarterbacks, defense have solid moments in spring game,” The Covington News: April 15, 2019.
Joi Moore, “New leaders emerging for Georgia State football,” GeorgiaStateSignal.Com: April 21, 2019.
Ryan McGee, “The coveted top of the 2018 Bottom 10 is decided,” ESPN: November 27, 2018.