Just like in 2014, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will be facing off with the Tulane Green Wave in the second game of the season. This year, the Green Wave will be traveling to Atlanta to finish off the home-and-home split. Tulane had some promise going into 2014 after a seven-win season in 2013 and gave the Jackets all they could handle early in the year, but they struggled heavily throughout and managed only three wins. Much of that disappointment was credited to an inefficient and inexperienced offense. Now in 2015, Tulane is looking to build off a very solid defense with hopes that the offense will be much more competent.
What to watch for:
Despite having such a disappointing season, one of Tulane's bright spots was opening their new stadium in a competitive game against a team that went on to win the Orange Bowl later in the year. The Green Wave never trailed in the game up until a last-second Harrison Butker field goal to put the Jackets up 24-21 at halftime. Tech would then score two second-half touchdowns to walk out with a 17-point victory. It was a bit of a moral victory for Tulane who proved that their 2013 defense wasn't a fluke as they managed to really limit the high-powered offensive attack of the Jackets. Unfortunately for Tulane, the problem in that game manifested itself throughout the year as they turned the ball over too much and couldn't score consistently.
They key this season against Georgia Tech is if Tulane can find that same success defensively while also keeping an efficient offensive attack. The Green Wave are returning a ton of starters on both sides of the ball with the secondary experiencing the most turnover. Quarterback Tanner Lee will return after a disappointing and turnover-prone freshman campaign. Both freshman running backs had bright spots in 2014 and should form a formidable duo as sophomores. The Green Wave have a nice trio of standouts defensively at defensive line, linebacker, and defensive back. If all goes as planned, they have the opportunity to be much more like the 2013 team than the 2014 team.
What Tulane didn't do well against Georgia Tech last year is protect the ball when they had opportunities on offense. When a defense takes the ball away from the Jackets three times, the offense has to take advantage of those chances by keeping the ball on their side and limiting the time on the field for the Tech offense. Tulane turned it over three times to match Tech, and instead of Tulane taking advantage, it only became a wash. Running back Sherman Badie barely played in last year's game, but he came on very strongly afterwards and emerged as Tulane's best back. If the Green Wave can get him running well on the ground, it should take a lot of pressure off of Tanner Lee to carry the offensive load. As in most cases against Georgia Tech, Tulane should try to incorporate the running game early to try to control the clock.
The defense returns much of the talent in the front seven that they had last year when they were quite successful against the option. It'd be hard to dominate up front like they did for much of that game, but if the Green Wave can come close to duplicating that success, the game could be even closer due to an offense that should be better. The difference is in the secondary where they lost a lot of talent. Unlike the opener where Tech isn't expected to throw the ball much at all, the game against Tulane should be a good opportunity to get the aerial attack going against a secondary that shouldn't be very good.
Who to watch for:
QB Tanner Lee
Tanner Lee was the hype machine last season going into his freshman year as the starting quarterback for Tulane. It didn't turn out to be a great start, but the redshirt freshman worked hard through some growing pains and at times showed why so many liked his potential. He finished the year with only 12 touchdown passes compared to 14 interceptions, so he'll need a much better sophomore campaign if he wants to be locked in as the future for the Green Wave at quarterback. He's got the measurables you want at the position standing at 6'4" with plenty of arm strength, but his decisions have been bad and his accuracy has been off. If Tulane wants to compete in the game, Lee has to be way better than he showed last season, and he has to protect the ball when he has it.
RB Sherman Badie
Badie only carried the ball three times in the game last season, but he established himself as a big-play threat and Tulane's top runner as the year went along. Badie went on to lead the Green Wave in carries, yards, and yards-per-carry in 2014, and he's set to be the lead back in 2015. When he has space, he can be extremely dangerous which is shown by his 5.7 YPC last season. The problem for Badie and Tulane is that so many teams stacked the box due to an incompetent passing game from the Green Wave. They have all the talent they could ask for at running back and a productive offensive line, but until Tulane shows they can throw it consistently, teams will continue to load the box to prevent them from establishing the run game.
DE Royce LaFrance
LaFrance made a big play in last year's game by returning the fumble on the first play from scrimmage to the 8-yard line to set up Tulane's first touchdown. LaFrance went on to have a nice season with six sacks and 10.5 tackles-for-loss. He comes back in 2015 as the senior leader of the defensive line and a guy that can really get after it in the opposing team's backfield. He's the guy the Jackets have to stop from getting an early push on the offensive line.
LB Nico Marley
Marley is an undersized outside linebacker who led the unit in tackles in 2014. At only 5'9", 200 lbs., Marley makes his living with aggressive play and big tackles in the backfield. He had 13.5 TFL and 64 total tackles for the Green Wave last season as a sophomore. Marley should be the key guy for the Green Wave defense as he has the potential to be extremely disruptive in the Tech backfield.
CB Parry Nickerson
Nickerson had six interceptions as a freshman last season, and his first one came against Georgia Tech from Justin Thomas. In an inexperienced secondary, Nickerson is the playmaker that has to be really good for Tulane's pass defense to hold its own. He may get a lot of looks as the main coverage man in this one in a game where Tech may be passing the ball more than usual.
What to expect:
This Tech offense simply shouldn't be anything close to what it was at this point in 2014. Justin Thomas was inexperienced going on the road and didn't play a very good game. Tulane will be seeing a much different quarterback, and they won't like this new one very much. For that reason, you should expect to see the Jackets be much more productive offensively this time around. The passing game should be present, and the points should come easier. The Tulane offense should also be better than what we saw a year ago. These two things will balance out a bit in terms of scoring for the Green Wave. They were gifted with easier points early on due to the defense making plays. While you shouldn't expect the Tulane defense to make those plays this time out, the offense should be able to sustain a couple of drives on their own to score some points against the Jackets.
Best-Case Scenario for Tulane
The Green Wave are able to replicate their success defensively against the option last season while also improving offensively and hanging onto the ball when they get the opportunity to control the clock. The run game excels while the defense forces a few turnovers, and Tulane is able to stay in the game into the 4th quarter.
Worst-Case Scenario for Tulane
Last year's success defensively proves to be a one-time thing, and the Georgia Tech option attack works fluidly against the Green Wave defense. Once again, Tanner Lee and the offense can't hang onto the ball when they need to, and the Jackets get the extra opportunities on offense that can be so deadly against the option. Without the stops and forced turnovers by Tulane, Georgia Tech puts the game away in the first half and shuts the door much more quickly than they did in 2014.
Georgia Tech 49, Tulane 17