Tulane cornerback Lorenzo Doss, right, is one of the Green Wave's top returning players. (Derick E. Hingle / USA Today Sports / October 5, 2013)
Football season is right around the corner.
With that in mind, the Orlando Sentinel got together with beat writers from various media outlets around the country to get the scoop on all the Knights' opponents this season.
We will showcase a daily Q&A with a beat reporter(s) covering one of UCF's opponents this season.
Up today? Tulane analysis from New Orleans Advocate reporter Scott Kushner
What expectations does the coaching staff have for the team this year?
Curtis Johnson finally broke through last year, earning Tulane’s first winning season and bowl berth since 2002. However, the move to the AAC already has him walking a different line with the media this offseason. Last year at this time, Johnson often expressed the expectation of doing more than just ending Tulane's postseason drought, but this year he’s shown more reverence for the competition. I think a six-win season and a berth in a bowl game would be considered a significant success in his eyes and to most Tulane fans. Not only is the league schedule a tougher grind but non-conference games against two ACC teams (Georgia Tech, at Duke) and a Big 10 (at Rutgers) school don’t leave a lot of low-hanging fruit. Still, Tulane will have a legitimate home field advantage for the first time in decades, playing in its new on-campus home of Yulman Stadium. It’s not known just how much that will affect the Wave’s performance.
What did you learn about Tulane after spring football?
That Tulane is more than likely going to have a new quarterback. The biggest story of the spring would be whether Tulane could improve on the position after a season where neither Nick Montana nor Devin Powell did enough to be named an incumbent starter. Both struggled mightily in 2013, leaving the door open for redshirt freshman Tanner Lee. The New Orleans native displayed superior physical tools – arm strength and passing accuracy - to both Montana and Powell this spring, and is widely expected to be named the starter for the season opener if preseason practice unfolds the way spring practice did.
Who are the key players for this year's team?
Cornerback Lorenzo Doss was named a second team All-American by Walter Camp and Sports Illustrated and several publications tabbed him as Conference USA’s Defensive Player of the Year. His seven interceptions in 2013 ranked him No. 2 nationally and in just two seasons he’s nabbed 12 career picks. Sophomore linebacker Florida native Nico Marley broke through as a freshman last season, winning Conference USA’s Defensive Freshman of the Year award thanks to his 59 tackles, eight tackles-for-loss, two sacks and two pass breaks ups from the weak-side position.
What players are new to the team and expected to make an immediate impact?
Lee, if he earns the starting nod, is clearly in position to make the quickest impact. Despite showing some flashes of brilliance in practice, Johnson decided to redshirt the 6-foot-4, 203-pound passer in favor of Montana and Powell. However, Lee can make throws Montana can’t and already understands the playbook better than Powell does (last year Powell had to go to sideline between every snap). As for true freshmen, I wouldn’t be surprised if Raul “Junior” Diaz gets some snaps at center next year, considering Tulane lost four-year starter Zach Morgan to graduation.
What are Tulane’s strengths on offense? Defense?
It’s hard to know where Tulane’s offensive strength lies. Without running back Orleans Darkwa or Ryan Grant at receiver, the options are mostly unknown. Robert Kelley performed well as the No. 2 back but was forced to miss spring practice due to academic issues and his status is still cloudy. Justyn Shackleford, Xavier Rush and Devon Breaux have all shown flashes of playmaking ability down the field but Johnson often complained about their inconsistency and unreliability last season.
It’s a different story on defense. Tulane’s secondary was lights out last season and with Lorenzo Doss returning in front of safeties Sam Scofield and Darion Monroe, there shouldn’t be much drop off this year. Defensive coordinator Lionel Washington is unabashedly aggressive in his approach and with speed constantly coming off the edges, Tulane should be able to force plenty of sacks and turnovers again in 2014.
What are Tulane's weaknesses on offense? Defense?
Tulane’s passing game was abysmal last year; ranking 101st nationally (185 yards per game) and it lost its only true weapon (Grant), to the NFL Draft. The rest of the Green Wave’s wide receivers have shown very little and its quarterbacks are either entirely inexperienced or have underwhelmed when given the opportunity. Tulane’s offensive line took a massive leap between 2012 and 2013 but there are still plenty of questions about their ability and the boost in schedule strength will put the onus on them immediately.
There were almost no weaknesses in last year’s Tulane defense, but two major pieces of the unit are gone. Departed senior defensive tackles Chris Davenport and Julius Warmsley disrupted opposing offenses up at the line of scrimmage and allowed Tulane to run an array of exotic blitz schemes because the front was so stable. There is decent depth at both at both positions, but none of the returning starters have displayed the dynamic ability Warmsley and Davenport routinely did.
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UCF vs. Tulane
Location: Orlando, FL
Last meeting: 11/20/2010, UCF beat Tulane 61-14 in New Orleans.