The ghosts of Tulane’s offensive past don’t haunt them.
Instead, the Green Wave found a way to embrace all the adversity, turning the setbacks and sidesteps into a championship storyline. It’s a Taylor Swift power move honestly – Tulane’s offense doesn’t start shit but they can tell you how it ends.
“This year we had a very unique setup on the offensive side of the ball with how we game plan, how the play calling was distributed and all those things,” said Tulane Assistant Head Coach Slade Nagle. “I think I was able to take my past experiences from guys like Will Hall, the Matt Viator’s of the world, the Steve Ensminger’s, take the best of those things and mesh them into a system and figure out a way to get it to fit and to fit our players too.”
Nagle, who also holds the title of Run Game Coordinator and Tight Ends Coach has been a part of the Green Wave offense for seven seasons. He has coached under four different offensive coordinators during that time, which some might find challenging but for Tulane, it was just part of the next man up mentality in New Orleans.
“With the run game I’ve probably taken a lot from what Will did as far as packaging plays together and being able to double call plays and stuff like that,” said Nagle. “Some of the tempo things, the being able to play fast that Will and Chip (Long) did and then to be honest my overall philosophy stems more from my younger days coaching under Viatar and Scott Stoker, just being a tough, hard-nosed offense that tries to play physical. Doug Ruse as well, he’s very similar to those guys.”
Ruse led the offense from 2016-2018, Hall from 2019-2020 and Long for a short stint in 2021. First it was physical, then it was fast and now under offensive coordinator Jim Svboda it’s complete, ranking 21st in scoring offense with an average of 35.3 points per game, 19th in rushing touchdowns with 30 and 10th in pass efficiency.
By now, everybody knows what quarterback Michael Pratt is capable of and you can’t talk about college football running backs without breathing Tyjae Spears name but the unsung heroes of this dynamic attack are the tight ends – the guys that either have their hand in the dirt, tangled up in someone’s jersey or outstretched in the endzone.
“The number one thing about the position, and I tell guys even when I’m recruiting them is first and foremost, you have to love football, you have to love and relish the everyday grind because it’s a position that if you don’t do that, then you are going to get exposed in a lot of areas,” explained Nagle. “And I think we have a really special tight end room – the bond, the friendships, the respect for one another is very good. This year I was fortunate because I have a couple of guys who are very experienced and are veteran players so you can ask them to do a lot and they understand it.”
One of those veteran tight ends is Tyrick James, a senior from Waco, Texas who ended up in the Big Easy because his high school ran a similar offense and the familiarity boded well for his football future.
“Most guys want to stay in Texas because Texas football is so big…but my mom knew I would have a chance to get a great education and actually get the chance to grow up on my own at Tulane,” said James.
The 6-2, 235-pound tight end saw glimpses of success early on in his career at Tulane but has really grown into his role the last two seasons, grabbing 25 catches for 285 yards and five touchdowns this year.
“Tyrick, he does a lot of things well – he plays good in space, he’s great in the pass game, he’s improved so much as a blocker throughout his career because he knew it was a weakness for him coming in and he’s been able to get better and better,” remarked Nagle. “He’s like a coach on the field, he’s super football smart and I’ve really enjoyed coaching both those guys.
The compliment to James’ pass-catching is fellow senior tight end Will Wallace, who has been dubbed the best blocking tight end in the American Athletic Conference.
“I’ll be honest, I was telling one of our coaches the other day, when you start watching other teams and other stuff, Will is just excellent around the line of scrimmage player and he likes it, he enjoys it,” exclaimed Nagle. “He shows up every day, he works his butt off, he takes his role and he relishes it and he’s been successful.”
The two-tight end set Tulane runs with James and Wallace is immaculate and both guys have a real shot at playing football on Sunday next year.
“I know in today’s world everyone likes to see tight ends run and catch and this and that but the reality is they need guys to play at the line of scrimmage as well and there’s a place for those guys to have a career in the NFL,” assured Nagle.
But don’t worry, the tight end train at Tulane won’t stop when Wallace and James depart.
“The young guys we have I think are going to be very good,” boasted Nagle. “Alex Bauman played a lot for us this year as a true freshman which was extremely impressive. Reggie Brown has gotten better and better and I think he’s going to be a really good player in our league. And we’ve got a young kid on the roster, Blake Gunter who’s got loads of talent and I think the future is bright for him as well. Plus, I’m excited about the guys we have coming in.”
This offense is on the precipice of greatness on the eve of the Cotton Bowl – Pratt is 58 yards from the school single-season record for passing yards from a junior, Spears is two touchdowns away from moving into second for single-season total touchdowns and if the Green Wave can get through the game without throwing an interception, it will set the single-season school mark for fewest picks allowed with just five.
“To me, when you play a team like USC, all the things you focus on all the time are the things that are important going into this game as well – no negative plays, staying ahead of the sticks, not getting in third and super long, all those things we’ve done pretty much the whole year and we’ve done a good job with and I don’t really see why the recipe has to change when we face the Trojans,” said Nagle.
Whatever the outcome Monday afternoon, Tulane walked through the fire these past few years and emerged a more resilient and resolute football program.
“I think last year didn’t do anything but make us a closer football team,” admitted Nagle. “Coach Fritz as our leader did such a phenomenal job of keeping the guys together and building an even stronger bond going into this year. But I think when you go through hard times, you do one of two things – you either bond together and buckle down and get better or guys break apart and go different directions. I think the leadership from our head coach to our four captains is as good as any team I’ve ever been a part of. I think all those things ultimately helped us in the end.”