Date: Saturday, November 25th
Kickoff: Noon ET
Location: Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas, Texas
Line: -7.5 SMU
Series Record: Tulane leads series 13-10
Last Meeting: SMU won 34-31 on October 29, 2016
For the Green Wave the entire season comes down to this game. Win and the program will go bowling for the first time since 2013, and only the fourth time in the last 20 years. So this Tulane squad has a lot to play for, and they have some momentum coming into the game, riding a two-game winning streak. The Green Wave offense is led by Junior quarterback Jonathan Banks. Last week versus Houston he accounted for 319 total yards including 251 yards through the air.
Banks is joined in the backfield by leading rusher Dontrell Hilliard, who eclipsed 1,000 yards for the season last week, fellow senior Sherman Badie (348 yards 3 TDs) and sophomore Darius Bradwell (331 yards 2 TDs). Tulane's backs have combined to average 237 yards per game in Coach Willie Fritz's zone option attack, while the Green Wave also manages to average 146 yards per game through the air, including nearly 200 yards per game in the last five games as Jonathan Banks and his receivers have grown through the season. Tulane's leading receivers are Terren Encalade (619 yards 4TD's), Darnell Mooney (431 yards 2 TD's) and Jabril Clewis (174 yards). Encalade and Mooney, in particular, have been having making an impact lately.
Defensively the Green Wave will have to answer the challenge of yet another high powered AAC offense. After holding Houston to 17 points last week, the Wave defenders now face the SMU passing attack. Tulane is currently ranked 100th in the nation in total defense, and while the defense may concede yards, they turn opponents over frequently, as Tulane ranks 29th in the nation in turnover margin with 11 interceptions and 5 fumble recoveries. Parry Nickerson and Donnie Lewis man the corners of Tulane's experienced secondary. Nickerson is a Thorpe award semifinalist who has 5 interceptions this season and 15 for his career.
- The Green Wave offensive line will need to control the game if Tulane is to pull the upset on the road. Last week the Wave offensive line allowed only one sack to Ed Oliver and the Cougars defense while paving the way for 166 yards rushing. They will need another standout performance.
- Tulane's secondary will have to play their best game of the season. After being gutted by Memphis' passing game 4 weeks ago, the Green Wave secondary will be depended on to continue their improvement.
- Dontrell Hilliard and the Wave running backs will need to have a great game. In order to keep the ball away from SMU the Green Wave backs must excel against what is considered to be an SMU defense susceptible to the run.
We knew that SMU had a rough patch in their schedule, but wow a 3 game losing streak puts them only 1 game above the .500 mark. They have a good chance at redemption this week though. They have a huge advantage by playing at home this week during what can be considered a short week, due to Thanksgiving.
Last week, the offense showed up to play. After a slow start the previous week to Navy, SMU was matching Memphis stride for stride. SMU was only down 7 points at the half, and it took a big Memphis 4th quarter in order to finally put SMU away. For SMU putting up 45 points, the stat sheet wasn’t nearly as impressive. Ben Hicks only threw for 218 yards, but was able to pass for 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. He played clean all game, which is encouraging for the quarterback of the future.
Despite Hicks throwing for over 200 yards and 4 touchdowns, Trey Quinn and Cortland Sutton didn’t have their typical games. Quinn had four catches for 44 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Sutton had one catch for 35 yards and a touchdown. James Proche was once again the leader of the pack getting 70 yards on four catches. The top receivers have to do a better job this week, and heading into bowl season if they are to be successful.
The running game needed some extra help too, despite the team generating 259 yards. Xavier Jones is clearly the leading back in the group after rushing for 175 yards alone. Ke’Mon Freeman and Braeden West have to be better going forward to have some diversity in the backfield. As a unit, you have to have more than one back doing the load. It gives the defense a different skill set they have to contain. So far, the other running backs have not stepped up, like they did earlier in the year.
Defensively, there really isn’t much of a positive. They were shredded on the ground by Navy, and shredded in the air (331) and ground (333) by Memphis. The only real positive was an early interception by Jordan Wyatt to help fuel an early 10-0 lead. After that, things went down quickly, and Ferguson started settling in. The defense did not give fans much confidence towards the end of this season.
This week they play a Tulane team, we really don’t know what to think of. They lost to an FIU team they should have beaten, but won against a solid Houston team. Offensively, SMU could not beat Houston. So, as well as SMU has played offensively, it is very well within the realm of possibilities that Tulane limits the SMU offense. Tulane has great talent in the secondary that could pose serious problems for Ben Hicks and company. It is especially concerning when Cortland Sutton had a bad game last week.
Defensively, SMU is facing a team that has struggled on offense most of the year. The inconsistent play has really plagued the Green Wave, but it could all change against an unreliable defense. In fairness, SMU is getting torn up by good teams. But nonetheless, SMU has to be better if they want to beat Tulane. SMU proved they struggled against another option team, and it is very possible we could see similar results.
- Get Cortland Sutton more involved on offense. One catch is just not acceptable. He has had these types of games this year. Hicks needs to keep trying to get him involved when possible.
- Ke’Mon Freeman needs to get back to early season form. Ever since conference play, I have seen a large dip in skill level from Freeman. If he gets back to his early season form, the backfield once again becomes more than just a single threat.
- The defense needs to give some resistance. We know that the defense is about as average as average gets, but the last few games have been unacceptable. They have to give the offense a chance to win. If SMU’s defense had played somewhat well, they could have won the past two games. The offense has played well enough.