After a tough September stretch of hosting Stanford and then traveling to Boston College, the Blue Devils return home on September 24 to close out the first month of the season with a homecoming game against Tulane. Duke fans would be thrilled for the Blue Devils to enter this matchup with a 2-1 record, but most expect a 1-2 start to the 2011 season, meaning that Duke will need to get back on track against the Green Wave.
Duke and Tulane had similar campaigns in 2010, with both teams showing tremendous offensive potential, but unable to consistently slow opposing offenses. The Green Wave finished the season with a 4-8 record, which included a 17-14 road victory at Rutgers. Led by freshman sensation Orleans Darkwa, the Tulane offense posted its highest point total in 6 years, and with 7 starters returning, QB Ryan Griffin and the offense appear poised for a big 2011 season. Defensively, the Green Wave gave up an average of over 37 points per game, but return 7 starters in 2011, including two star transfers. Former Duke LB Trent Mackey and former Iowa DE Dezman Moses have both developed into All-Conference USA candidates and headline the 2011 Tulane defense. Overall, it appears that the Green Wave are prepared to improve upon last season’s 6th place finish and compete for the program’s first winning season since 2002.
Speaking of 2002, we are fortunate enough to have help from Stephen Segari, a member of the Green Wave program from 1999-2002 and a current moderator at goTULA.NEt. Stephen has a unique perspective on Tulane Football and we know you’ll enjoy reading his thoughts on Duke’s September 24th opponent.
BDN: Tulane and Duke are far from familiar foes, having last met on the gridiron in 1973. Both teams, however, have had similar struggles in recent years, with the Green Wave's last winning season in 2002 and the Blue Devils' last bowl trip all the way back in 1995. What are some of the challenges that have led to Tulane's recent struggles? With four straight losing seasons, is Head Coach Bob Toledo on the hot seat in 2011?
Through the years, the biggest challenge to success of Tulane football has been Tulane. With self-imposed admission standards above the NCAA minimum, the Green Wave are at an immediate disadvantage and must work hard to bring in the same high school talent other schools can easily accept. While a lot of the blame does fall on Toledo and the coaching staff for the dismal record the past 4 seasons, many fans recognize that the coaches are working with one hand tied behind their backs.
Toledo is definitely on the hot seat in his 5th season. Anything short of a bowl appearance (the Greenies need 7 wins this year because of the 13 game schedule ending with Hawaii), Toledo will be shown the door. Others feel that regardless of a bowl game and the season outcome, Toledo will move on and/or retire.
BDN: As a member of the last Tulane team to post a winning season, can you summarize your experience as a Green Wave football player? What are the strengths of the Tulane program and where do you think the program is headed in 2011 and beyond?
Coming off of the perfect 12-0 season of 1998, the Green Wave were poised to have their 3rd winning season in a row in 1999. Instead of hiring offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez to replace the departing Tommy Bowden, the Tulane president and athletic director went in a different direction and hired Chris Scelfo. His first year was my freshman year. Playing for the Green Wave was tough, challenging, and in the end, definitely rewarding. In my senior year of 2002, we were invited to play in the Hawaii bowl on Christmas night and finished with a record of 8-5. Of course, the 2002 season was the last winning season for Tulane Football. There are still way too many questions, and not enough answers, for the program in 2011 and beyond. For the program, it’s time for the athletic director Rick Dickson, and university president Scott Cowen to step up, drop the flawed Tulane Model (higher admission standards for athletes vs. NCAA minimums), actively communicate with the Tulane athletics community, and direct adequate resources (both financial and facilities) to Tulane football.
BDN: The Green Wave finished 2010 with a 4-8 record, which included an impressive road win at Rutgers and the team's highest offensive output in six seasons. Can you give us a brief scouting report on emerging star RB Orleans Darkwa? With the loss of offensive coordinator Dan Dodd, what changes do you expect to see on offense in 2011?
Running backs Orleans Darkwa and Andre Anderson are head and shoulders above the rest of the offense. Compared to the offensive line and wide receiver play during Spring ball, much of the burden will be on the shoulders of Darkwa this fall. Look for Orleans to pick up right where he left off last year, where his rookie rushing total surpassed the former record set by current Pittsburgh Steeler Mewelde Moore. The loss of Dodd shouldn’t have that noticeable of an effect on the offense, since Toledo and Dodd were so close at the hip.
BDN: Similar to the Blue Devils, Tulane struggled to slow their opponents' offenses in 2010. Former Blue Devil Trent Mackey has quickly developed into an All-Conference-quality linebacker at Tulane and leads the Green Wave defense along with Iowa transfer DE Dezman Moses. What adjustments have been made this offseason to improve on 2010's results? What should be the strengths and weaknesses for the Tulane defense in 2011?
Special teams in 2010 were a real deal breaker for the Green Wave, specifically the kickoff team. With the average starting position of opponents’ at or near the 40, the Tulane defense often had their backs to the wall even before stepping on the field. Through spring ball, no noticeable, major changes were made to the defense from last year. Mackey and Moses were the 2 defensive standouts of the spring game. The linebacking core looked solid, but the DB still had some work to do… many blown coverages in the 2010 season. The strengths should definitely be Mackey and Moses (defensive line and linebackers) with our possible weaknesses being our secondary.
BDN: With two relatively unknown opponents, it's difficult to predict the outcome of the September 24th showdown in Durham. What do you expect to see from Duke and what does Tulane need to do to pull off a key non-conference road win?
Every matchup in the 2011 season will be a challenge for Tulane. No games are given wins. I look for a tough fought 60 minutes of football. For Tulane to have a chance to be in the game at the end, we will need to eliminate the mistakes that plagued us last season: No more kickoff returns for opponents past the 40, no more blown DB coverages, and improved blocking by the o-line.
We look forward to playing the Blue Devils, but know that every game is a must win, and every game will be a challenge.
BDN: Thanks a lot, Stephen!
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Next week: October 1, Duke at Florida International