Willie Fritz isn’t going to wait long to put his stamp on the Tulane program he was tabbed to revitalize after the 2015 season.
That includes a quick change at quarterback with a player still learning his way around the Green Wave’s scenic campus.
Fritz said this week that freshman Johnathan Brantley, from Houston, will step in as the Tulane starter this week against Navy, the Wave’s first AAC contest of the season.
Brantley secured the new role by gashing the Southern defense for 119 yards in a backup role last week, 63 of those yards on his first college carry. He engineered Fritz’s triple-option offense seamlessly as the Wave racked up 437 yards on the ground in a 66-21 triumph.
Third-year sophomore Glenn Cuiellette started the first two games, including a lethargic 7-3 loss at Wake Forest in the season opener when Tulane rushed for only 146 yards. He also threw an interception to start the second half last week that got returned for a touchdown, leading to Brantley’s entrance.
“Johnathan Brantley is going to start this ballgame,” Fritz said during his weekly media session. “Glenn will be backing him up. That’s going to be a spot, just like all positions, (that) we are going to look and see who plays better each week, and the guy who plays better is probably going to start.”
For now, that is Brantley. There is some optimism that once the 6-foot-1 freshman gets comfortable, Tulane could expand the offense, which may be a necessity against AAC opponents, starting with a Navy crew that has been susceptible to the pass so far.
The Midshipmen are allowing 283 passing yards a game, 409 yards overall. There should be opportunities to move the ball, particularly via the pass.
In his extended playing time last week, Brantley threw only four passes (completing one) because the Wave didn’t need to go airborne that often. However, as a senior at King High in Houston in 2015, Brantley threw often enough – and well enough – to compile 2,147 yards through the air and 20 touchdowns. He also ran regularly and finished with 844 rushing yards and 16 TDs.
Those numbers came more in a zone-read offense, which has different mechanics than Fritz’s triple-option scheme. That created some cause for adjustment, and apparently the learning curve sped up last week.
“It’s nice, because it makes me feel like all of the work I put in has paid off,” Brantley said. “I still have to work like I’m the third string, so we can be the best team that we can possibly be.”
Which seems to be with Brantley at the controls. He stepped in as the leading man earlier this week and is embracing the role.
“Mentally, I’ve still got the same approach,” he said. “I’ve got to work hard and give my all on every single play.
“A lot of people have been telling me they want me to be the quarterback. Now that it’s happened, everyone has really been supporting me. When Glen was the starting quarterback, I was a good teammate and he’s doing the same thing for me.”