GAME 12: Tulane @ Memphis Preview
Can the Wave win in Memphis for the first time since 2000?
Preview by Kelly Comarda and JP Gooderham. You can find FTW on Twitter (@fearthewaveblog).
On Saturday, Tulane Football (2-9) will end its 2021 campaign in Memphis with a battle against the Memphis Tigers (5-6) in the Liberty Bowl. For Memphis, this is a critical game to keep a six-season long bowl streak alive. Lose, and the Tigers will stay home in December for the first time since Justin Fuente’s very first season before engineering a successful turnaround.
For Tulane, the Green Wave will try to follow up its most complete performance of 2021 — a 45-14 beatdown of the USF Bulls — with another to end the season with momentum as Willie Fritz looks to turn 2022 into a successful reboot.
Another win could be especially useful as Tulane prepares for a December signing day with a strong recruiting class in place while most of the state’s FBS programs are in various states of chaos due to coaching changes (and ones soon to come, looking over at Lafayette). To their credit, the Green Wave’s class sits at #55 in the Rivals team rankings, which makes for third best in the current AAC (and the best of any future AAC member with Cincinnati and UCF on their way to the Big 12).
So, one way or another, a disappointing 2021 college football season will come to an end for players, staff, and Tulane fans. As a 6-point underdog, Vegas expects this to be a fight that Tulane can potentially handle. With no bowl game in sight, it would be nice to put the nail in the coffin for another team, especially one like Memphis who was also left out of Big 12 expansion and could be in the AAC for years to come.
Tulane @ Memphis will be at 6:30 (Central) on ESPNU.
Wave of History
A few historical notes for you ahead of the Memphis game. Overall, Tulane is in its best stretch against Memphis since 2000. After the Wave’s 37-14 win way back in the year 2000, Memphis pounded the Greenies over 11 straight games that spanned from the Conference USA to AAC era. It would take until 2018 for Tulane to be on the better end of the scoreboard.
Under Willie Fritz, the Wave has struck back, at least at home, by winning two of the last three (40-24 in 2018, 35-21 in 2020) to end an 18-year drought and kickstart a back-and-forth rivalry.
The proverbial demon here is that the Liberty Bowl has not been kind to the Wave. In fact, Tulane has not won in Memphis in any game since 1998, when the undefeated Wave would beat Memphis on the road and later beat BYU in the Liberty Bowl.
While the Vegas line is within a touchdown, 2-9 Tulane will need to overcome a lot of disappointing history in this venue.
Wave Goodbye: Final Game for Tulane Seniors
16 Tulane seniors will exit the program after their final game on Saturday after being recognized last week in Yulman for Senior Day.
That included listed starters like WR Jaetavian Toles, OL Corey Dublin, DE JoJo Dorceus (a former Memphis transfer), DT Jeffery Johnson, LB Kevin Henry, CB Jaylon Monroe, punter Ryan Wright, and kicker Merek Glover.
Those seniors (with the exception of the grad transfers) were the first class ever in Tulane history to play in three bowl games.
Kelly’s Keys to the Memphis Game
First, let’s start with a comparison of where Tulane stands on both sides of the ball as they end the season.
Tulane Defense: Games 4-7 vs. Games 8-11
Tulane Offense: Games 4-7 vs. Games 8-11
Since our State of the Program piece ran before the Cincinnati game, we have seen a big statistical difference in the Tulane defense from weeks 4-7 to weeks 8-11. Some of this can be attributed to the quality of opponent. SMU, in particular, is one of the most explosive offenses in college football. Regardless, the changes we see here are encouraging, including the fact that Tulane has held 3 straight opponents to 14 points in regulation. Regardless of who you are playing, that is a nice achievement.
The difference on defense can be attributed to better run defense on first and second down. Tulane is finding a way to make plays behind the line of scrimmage which puts teams behind the chains and forces more difficult third down passes. While we still see mental mistakes and breakdowns every now and then (See first play of the game against Tulsa), the mental mistakes have been cleaned up for the most part.
Offense has been a different story. Yes, the offense has played against some pretty good defenses in the last month, especially Cincinnati with Freshman Kai Horton starting. However, even with Pratt back in the lineup against UCF and Tulsa, Tulane did very little on offense. The Tulsa game in particular was nauseating to watch. It was like Tulane didn’t even try to throw the ball downfield until the last few minutes of the game. It’s as if we had so little trust in our offensive line and receivers that throwing the ball wasn’t even on the menu until it had to be. Then, what do you know, it worked. We stormed back into the game and should have won. Part of me believes that if we would’ve shown more confidence in Pratt during that game and thrown the ball earlier and more often that he makes one of those two relatively easy throws to put the game away.
Against USF, it looked like Memphis Chip Long re-surfaced and our offense had imagination and explosive plays. I counted at least 5 pass plays of over 30 yards in that game which totaled more yardage that Tulane threw for in each of the previous 3 games. Granted, USF was a dumpster fire on defense, but the way Tulane schemed some of those plays reminded us of why some of us were excited that we hired Chip Long in the first place. This was the Tulane offense we saw in the first two weeks of the season and for a quarter against Ole Miss.
Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a giant leap forward. I am hopeful that this season serves as the punch in the mouth that we needed. This is a reminder that while we went to three straight bowls, we were just as close to not going to any at all. The difference between being bad and mediocre isn’t much, but the difference between mediocre and good requires a much more sustained focus and effort. It’s hard to climb, but it’s easy to descend.
I’m sure there has been and will continue to be a lot of soul searching in the Wilson Center over the next few days. Willie Fritz has spent a good portion of the past three years trying to find a new identity to keep up with the times in college football. He’s shown a willingness to move on from coaches and philosophies that are no longer sustainable at this level. I think he knows how he wants to play defense, and I think Chris Hampton has done a lot to reassure Coach Fritz and Tulane fans that he can be the guy to lead the defense next year. The biggest question for Coach Fritz is what does his ideal offense look like? Is it more of an Air Raid? Is it closer to what Will Hall was running last year? Is it some version of what Chip Long showed us against USF? We’re going to find out soon enough.
Predictions for the Memphis Game
Drop your own prediction in the comments below as we close out this season with a final preview.
Kelly’s Prediction: Memphis has played a lot of close games this year, but they are tough to beat at the Liberty Bowl (4-2 at home as opposed to 1-4 on the road). This week they’ll be playing for a bowl berth. We beat Memphis pretty handily last season at home with the same stakes, and I think Memphis returns the favor this year. While I would love nothing more than to play spoiler to the Tigers’ season, I think Memphis continues the trend of winning a surprisingly close game at home, and Tulane will continue its trend of having the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win and failing to do so. Memphis 27 Tulane 21
JP’s Prediction: Kelly is right about Memphis at home this year. That included an impressive early season win against Mississippi State, which is not something you expect to happen in a year that you’re grappling in the final week to try and score a trip to the Gasparilla Bowl. Look, if you are a football fan and took Memphis to win in any year in Memphis against Tulane since 2000, you’d be right. That’s a lot of bad history for Wave teams heading north. With that said, I really liked what I saw against USF. The improvement of the defense has continued to stick, which is a huge positive from a unit that was in big trouble week-in and week-out in the early part of this season. RB Tyjae Spears is the player we saw last year, delivering 6.8 yards per carry over the past four games. I think Tulane can win this one. The Green Wave sends the seniors out right with an impressive day for the defense. Tulane 30, Memphis 24
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