The "hype" has been high. Will the Green Wave deliver in rainy Oxford?
Preview by Kelly Comarda and JP Gooderham. You can find FTW on Twitter (@fearthewaveblog).
Tulane’s 2021 schedule was largely not a point of interest for your normal, everyday College Football viewing public. With games against playoff-era powerhouse Oklahoma, rising SEC program Ole Miss, and Conference USA champ UAB to boot, expectations on this Green Wave team were decidedly low entering the year. Vegas, for instance, set the number of wins for the season at 5.5 — Tulane was quite clearly just another fringe bowl team trying to find its way back to a bowl game celebrating the noble potato or another item of produce.
Things have changed.
The Wave seized an opportunity in Norman, OK to nearly stun the Sooners live on ABC. While this victory would have been the signature win for most Tulane fans alive today, it was not to be. Hyped up yet winless, Tulane then hosted rebuilding FCS team Morgan State for a “home” game at Legion Field. In a sparsely attended affair far from home, Tulane brought their own energy while posting 52 points in the first half, sitting Michael Pratt and others, and scoring the most points in any game since UL-Lafayette in the undefeated 1998 season.
This all sets the stage for Saturday night in Oxford, Mississippi. Tulane will once again try to stun a major conference opponent with credible status as one of the country’s best teams. Like Oklahoma, Ole Miss will center on a high powered offense led by a Heisman contender in Matt Corral.
Unlike Oklahoma, Ole Miss will not have the excuse that they failed to take Tulane seriously. Head Coach and part-time social media influencer Lane Kiffin told the press this week that Tulane was “an SEC team.”
It’s now up to the Green Wave to show where the rubber meets the road: was the Oklahoma performance a flash in the pan, or can the Wave reverse recent history and show that they can truly hang, if not beat, the top tier of College Football?
Coach Fritz’s Comments
Coach Fritz weighed in on the high powered, top-five ranked Ole Miss offense by emphasizing the need to make tackles and avoid giving playmakers much space:
Well, we got to stay over the top we got to do a good job of tackling in space because they do a super job of getting their playmakers ball in space, whether it's by pass or run. They've got a really good running game - much much much better than people probably give them credit for. I don't know exactly everything with all the offense, who's calling what and all that stuff. But I think it's a little bit of a combination Coach Kiffin, he had fantastic offenses for years and years and years and years.
Fritz was also asked about the development of Tulane QB Michael Pratt, who has emerged as a bit of a breakout star of the early College Football season:
He's done an excellent job. He's just picking the game up. I think the game slowed down for a little bit. He's seeing things pre snap. He's accurate, has a strong arm and has much better movement than people give him credit for. We're excited that we've got an excellent quarterback. You've got to have that in these type of games.
Finally, Fritz was asked about getting pressure on Corral. He pointed to the importance of coverage when Corral has time to make throws underneath or deep:
We always want to try to get some pressure but sometimes we got to rush three sometimes four. Sometimes you sell the farm and try to bring more than they got to block. He (Matt Corral) sits back there and pats the ball. We've got to be really, really good in coverage, both underneath and over the top
Wave of History
There are a few important historical notes for this game.
All-Time History: Of course, Ole Miss and Tulane are familiar foes from the 20th century when the two programs played in the SEC and after. The Rebels lead the series with a 41-28 record. Ole Miss has won nine straight games dating back to Tulane’s last win in 1988 when the Wave took home a 14-9 win over the Billy Brewer coached squad that had earlier beaten a ranked Alabama (the old days were fun, I guess). Our friends at Ole Miss blog Red Cup Rebellion posted a nice deep dive here.
Also, notable — Tulane will wear a past icon of Tulane Football programs on their helmets. Greenie (carrying an Angry Wave flag) will appear on the side, with a 3-time SEC champ sticker adorning the back. The release of this helmet has caught national attention from, well, everyone. Holy cow, this department has gotten really good at creating a media frenzy about a football program that some outlets couldn’t find on a map a few years ago.
You can buy a T-Shirt from our friends at Homefield featuring this new graphic, which they released yesterday (and look to have in stock at the time of this writing).
Last, we have to talk about the drought against AP ranked opponents. Tulane last beat an AP-ranked opponent just 37 YEARS AGO when Wally English took down #19 Vanderbilt for one of just three wins that season. I just did a count looking at every Tulane schedule since 1984, and it looks like that makes 55 straight losses to AP-ranked opponents. The drought needs to end eventually, right?
Tulane rolls into Oxford a 14 point underdog to Ole Miss, but Ole Miss is certainly not taking Tulane lightly after what happened in Norman two weeks ago. Willie Fritz has been searching for a signature win, and this week presents possibly his best opportunity. A win against Ole Miss would put the college football world on notice that Tulane is for real. What will Tulane have to do to turn that dream into a reality? Here are some things to look for on Saturday night.
1. Corral Matt
The biggest difference between Spencer Rattler and Matt Corral is Corral's ability to tuck and run when the opportunity presents itself. Whereas Rattler can pick up a couple of first downs a game with his legs, Corral can actually hurt you. Tulane can't afford to lose containment or leave the middle of the field unoccupied against Corral. Look for Tulane to potentially rush 3 and use Dorian Williams to spy Corral. Rush lane integrity will be key all night for the Wave.
While it's always great to get heat on the QB, this might not be the game to throw a ton of blitzes in the game plan. Tulane might be better off trying to get home rushing 3 or 4, keeping Corral in the pocket and forcing him to throw into tight windows. Tulane's defense must hit Corral every chance it gets to wear him down over the course of the game. If Corral can net over 50 yards rushing, that could be bad news for the Green Wave.
2. Just Say No to Donterrio
Donterrio Drummond has been a problem for Ole Miss opponents in 2021 with 15 grabs for 284 yards and 3 TDs. For comparison, that is more than half the receiving yards that Tulane's top pass catcher had last year for the entire season. Drummond and his running mate Jonathan Mingo are both big, physical targets checking in at 220 and 225 lbs. Tulane is going to have to find a way to keep these two from breaking tackles and turning 10 yard catches into 20, 30 and 40 yard gains.
3. Linebacker and Safety Play are key
Ole Miss killed Louisville with quick slants in the read/option game, and they repeatedly attacked the seems. If Tulane is going to be successful this weekend, it will rely heavily on its experienced linebacker corps, especially Dorian Williams, Nick Anderson, Marvin Moody and Kevin Henry.
Safeties Larry Brooks, Macon Clark, Derrion Rakestraw and Rudy Dyson will also play a big role in this game. Tulane linebackers need to keep their depth in the read/option to force Corral to run the ball or give it to the back. I like Tulane's chances a lot more trusting Jeffrey Johnson and company to be stout against the run and allowing the linebackers and safeties to rally to the ball in the running game.
4. No Turnovers.
Michael Pratt fumbled three times against OU, and while the turnovers only resulted in 6 points, they killed Tulane's offensive momentum. Tulane is going to have to play a mistake free game on offense in order to beat Ole Miss in Oxford.
5. Early Offense
Tulane cannot expect to fall behind Ole Miss and make a huge comeback like it nearly did against OU. Tulane's needs points on its first few drives to gain confidence and to keep up with Ole Miss.
The Rebels haven't really been tested in 2021, and the longer Tulane can keep the game close, the more likely it is that Tulane can make a key play or Ole Miss might make a key mistake to give Tulane the game.
6. Grind Out a Run Game
Tulane's running attack has not looked great this year. The Wave even struggled to get the run game going against Morgan State. While I expect Tulane's success to be predicated on Michael Pratt's ability to make plays in the pass game, I think Tulane still needs to find a way to move the chains using the run game.
If Tulane can muster more than 150 yards rushing from the running backs, then I really like the Wave's chances. That will open up the play action pass game even more and allow Tulane to use the clock to its advantage.
Kelly’s Prediction: I want this game really bad. Tulane has been on the cusp of a signature win a couple of times under Willie Fritz and it just hasn't come. This will be a very difficult game to win. Lane Kiffin is certainly not taking Tulane for granted and should have his team ready to play...but so will Willie Fritz. Logic tells me that Ole Miss wins a close one here, but I'm calling my shot anyway. Tulane 38 Ole Miss 34
JP’s Prediction: Tulane is a 14-point underdog. Ole Miss now has tape from two games of the Chip Long offense. We have ol’ Lane “also sometimes Joey Freshwater” Kiffin talking about the Wave as an SEC team. Rat poison. Rat poison, everywhere. If you’re going in with low expectations, you’re smarter than me. I think this game will be a track meet, and we’re going to see points. Ole Miss has an improved defense but one that will need to play disciplined, consistent football to hold back Michael Pratt. Last, I think Tulane will find more success running the football than we saw in Norman. I’m going with the Greenies. Tulane 49, Ole Miss 45.
Share your prediction below.
Last, to subscribe to FTW Weekly (which we appreciate), enter your email here.