Ed. Note: Please welcome to the FTRS staff Tyler Duke! Tyler is a student at Kennesaw State, and a Yellow Jackets season ticket holder. He'll be conducting Q&A's with other teams' bloggers this fall, as well as participating in other ways around here. Join us in welcoming him to the staff!
Tammy Nunez of The Times-Picayune agreed to answer some questions about Georgia Tech's week two opponent, Tulane. The Green Wave opened their season last Thursday with a heartbreaking 38-31 double-overtime loss to Tulsa. The two teams will meet Saturday for the first game ever played at Tulane's new Yulman Stadium.
FTRS: It seems like there's a major culture shift going on inside the Green Wave football program. Between the introduction of the on-campus stadium (to which student tickets are sold out), Coach Johnson steering the ship in the right direction, and the move to the AAC; it seems that this season could be very special. Besides winning and recruiting well, what efforts are the program putting forth to sustain this current upswing?
TN: The university has increased its financial suppport for athletics in general, but specifically football. It has increased its funding of athletic scholarships and invested millions of dollars in capital upgrades and new facilities. Yulman Stadium, the venue of Saturday's game, is an example of that. It is a $72 million, 30,000-capacity on-campus stadium that was built adjacent to the Hertz Center, a volleyball/basketball practice facility that opened doors in 2011. The Hertz Center is a state-of-the-art 43,000-square foot, $14 million facility.
In the past, the university has asked the athletic department to privately raise money for its programs and wasn't giving as much in financial support. As soon as the university got on its feet after Hurricane Katrina, the Tulane Board made several key moves to increase support for athletics.
FTRS: What were the main reasons in the decision for Tulane to build an on-campus football stadium?
TN: Tulane tore down its old football facility -- Tulane Stadium -- after it was condemned in 1980. A few years before that stadium was demolished, the team moved its home games to the Superdome, which is located approximately four miles away in an urban setting. Tulane had immense trouble filling the vast Superdome for college games and that problem only increased as the program failed to produce winning seasons for most of the first decade of the 2000's. As former Houston QB Case Keenum truthfully said after one game in the Superdome --there is no atmosphere, you have to create your own excitement. He compared the feeling of playing a college football game in the facility to a practice.
The on-campus stadium brings home football games back to campus for the first time in nearly 40 years and gives students an easier way to get to games. The trek to the Superdome was not walkable, it was hard to tailgate there because of its urban setting a vast parking structure that surrounds the Superdome, and it just didn't feel like a college game day. Yulman Stadium is expected to give the students, supporters, and community that college game day experience again.
The other perk is Tulane is able to pocket parking fees, concessions, and tailgating packages -- [some things] it couldn't [do while] renting the Superdome.
FTRS: Are there any special events happening at the opening of Yulman Stadium when Tulane hosts Georgia Tech on Saturday?
TN: Yes! The university has planned for years on what it would do if it could host football games on campus again. There will be a ribbon-cutting string of events on Friday and countless events in the days leading up to teach the fans and students new traditions of having football on campus.
FTRS: Tulane suffered a heartbreaking 38-31 double overtime loss to Tulsa on Thursday night. What did you think of their overall performance in the season opener?
TN: The defense was the big surprise. It underperformed. The secondary is extremely talented, but was caught out of position at times, trying to make interceptions instead of stops on other occasions, and got ripped for more than 400 passing yards and four touchdowns. I didn't see that coming despite the fact the Green Wave had two interceptions that night.
The Green Wave offense is more explosive this season and its redshirt freshman quarterback handled the blitz-happy Tulsa defense well for the most part. The run game produced a more than 8-yards-a-carry night. That was also a surprise considering the Wave's trouble establishing a ground game with the same line last season.
FTRS: Tulane is starting a redshirt freshman at quarterback and running back. Their numbers seemed pretty impressive on Thursday. How did you feel about their performance, and do you think these two could have a very bright future for the Green Wave?
TN: Tanner Lee, the quarterback, and Sherman Badie, the running back, showed exactly the aptitude they have exhibited in the past year and a half on campus. The redshirt freshmen were billed as NFL-trajectory talent when they came in and though that is a long way off, both showed they can step up to the college level and not miss a beat from what they did in high school.
FTRS: What's your outlook on Tulane this season? Do you see them making a run at the AAC championship? Is there potential for them making a bowl game?
TN: Tulane probably won't be contending for a championship this season. With Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston on the schedule, the Green Wave will experience an upswing in competitiveness in the new league. But if Lee gets rolling and the secondary repeats what it did last season, the Green Wave could. There is potential to make a bowl game but it will be an uphill climb as the opponents are much better this season.
FTRS: As you know, Georgia Tech runs a triple-option offense. How do you think the Tulane defense will fare against the offense and is there much experience in this group against the triple option?
TN: Tulane has had Army on its schedule repeatedly in the last five years and is familiar with defending the option. Furthermore, many teams on its schedule in recent years had option packages they ran against the Wave. So assignment football defense isn't a new concept for Tulane. The Green Wave has been working on option defense since spring practices so if it doesn't do well against the option, it will more likely be because of inexperience at linebacker than preparation. Nico Marley, the weakside linebacker, is the only returning starter in the unit.
FTRS: Finally, can you give me your predictions on the game this Saturday?
TN: To the delight of the Yellow Jacket nation, I see a 31-14 Georgia Tech win. Tulane's kicking game issues combined with a pronounced weakness at linebacker will make it difficult for the Green Wave to stay in step with the Yellow Jackets.