It was a night to remember for Justin McMillan.
Not only was Tulane’s transfer-quarterback making his first career start but he played a huge role in the Wave’s third victory of the season. McMillan, who got the nod instead of the team’s usual starter Jonathan Banks, finished as Tulane’s third leading rusher with 75 yards and two touchdowns.
Although he did little through the air (just 92 yards on 10 completions) the former LSU signal-caller led the Green Wave to a 24-17 win they desperately needed. Of course McMillan was supported by a solid rushing attack that put up 312 yards on the Golden Hurricane. Corey Dauphine had his second 100-yard outing of the season while Darius Bradwell continued his impressive streak of now six consecutive games with a touchdown run.
For Tulsa, the defeat knocks them out of bowl contention. Their 12th straight loss to an FBS foe fit the script of many other defeats they’ve endured this season; an excruciating inability to close out the game in the fourth quarter. Although quarterback Seth Boomer played well in place of the injured Luke Skipper, his 180 yards and lone score wasn’t enough to topple Tulane.
As both teams look ahead to the final portions of their schedules, they can take away lessons, good and bad, from this contest.
The Good: Last week against SMU, the Green Wave rushing attack was dormant. This week they experienced a rebirth at the demise of the Golden Hurricane. McMillan’s two touchdown bolts were just a few of the many Tulane highlights. Dauphine was able to demonstrate his track-level speed once more. Bradwell did what he does best and found the end zone yet again. Even the slew of ball carriers behind these two performed solidly. Amare Jones and Stephon Huderson combined for 51 yards while receiver Jorien Vallien also got in on the action. The Wave will need this kind of back-by-committee performance next week when they head to South Florida.
Tulsa receiver Keylon Stokes had himself a game. Despite only touching the ball four times (two receptions and two carries) Stokes scored two touchdowns. Half of the times he had the ball he scored; not bad. He was a thorn in Tulane’s side all evening and Golden Hurricane fans should be excited that the kid’s only a sophomore. He could be a hay-maker on the offense for the next few years.
The Bad: Tulane... penalties... eight for 70 yards. Maybe one of these weeks we can discuss something different here.
For the Golden Hurricane this loss had to sting a little more because they had ample opportunities to deliver the knockout blow and couldn’t. Willie Fritz and the Wave gambled and lost on fourth down twice, passing up a field goal opportunity each time. Tulsa was unable to do anything with either stop and, as the game became tight in the final frame, the defense couldn’t hold the Green Wave when they needed to most. The result was their seventh defeat of the year and a further-secured position at the bottom of the AAC West.
The Ugly: For a while there Tulane snaps were wildly more unpredictable than they should be. Two miscues that resulted in fumbles along with several snap infractions and false starts had to have had Wave fans shaking their heads. Maybe it was because McMillan was taking over for Banks whose cadence and rhythm the O line had become accustomed to, but regardless, if these sorts of things continue the next few games are going to be rough.
Tulsa, as mentioned prior, will now miss out on a bowl game for the second year in a row. With road contests against Memphis and Navy still on the docket, it could be a long home stretch for fans in Oklahoma. But hey, at least they get UConn next weekend.
Tulsa’s Silver Lining: Despite the loss, there’s plenty of talent on this roster. Boomer showed that he can be the guy moving forward which is good because it certainly seems he’ll have to be. He didn’t throw an interception to a Green Wave D that’s had a knack for them this season and found a way to make some big plays when he was called upon. Stokes also is a bright spot moving into the final games and into next year (see above). This is a team that feels like they’re on the cusp of starting an upward push, they just need a little more under their belt.
Final Thoughts: It seems as though we saw the future of Green Wave football with McMillan on Saturday night. He wasn’t perfect by any stretch but he provided the spark the offense had been lacking as of late. Banks’ time as a starter may be up and yet it may not. Two difficult road tests await Tulane in the coming month including a bout with the Bulls next weekend in Tampa. We’ll see what McMillan can really do then.
Tulsa enters that part of their season no one likes or wants; the “playing for pride” portion. The most important thing they can do now is give their fans something to hang onto until next season. Head coach Philip Montgomery saw postseason action with this club in his first two years at the helm. If the Golden Hurricane can give their fans a glimpse of that potential, then maybe the upcoming offseason won’t be as long.