Location: Yulman Stadium – New Orleans, LA
Date: Saturday, November 24
Time: 11:00 a.m. CT
Records: Tulane 5-6 (4-3 AAC), Navy 3-8 (2-5 AAC)
Betting Line: Tulane -7; O/U 53.5
All-Time Series: Tulane leads 11-10-1
Last Meeting: Navy 23, Tulane 21 (September 9, 2017)
Quick Hits: Tulane’s Cameron Sample may be out for Saturday’s game. The sophomore defensive end sat out during last week’s loss in Houston for unspecified reasons and his status is unclear for the season finale. The Green Wave could miss him if he doesn’t take the field against the Midshipmen as he is responsible for 37 total tackles and three sacks this year. The good news for Tulane, though, is that Sample is the only notable player that is currently questionable for this game (Jonathan Banks also is, but he was not expected to start anyway).
Navy will again be without sophomore running back Keoni-Kordell Mahekau. Mahekau has toted the ball nine times this year for a total of 47 yards and no touchdowns but has since been sidelined with an undisclosed injury. Linebacker Evan Fochtman is listed as questionable may also be unavailable for unnamed reasons. Fochtman has 23 total tackles and one sack on the season.
From Tulane’s Perspective: It’s pretty cut-and-dried now, Tulane must win if they want to snag a bowl bid. I’m sure Willie Fritz and company were hoping they wouldn’t enter the last game of the year needing a victory like they did last year but alas here we are. The 5-6 Green Wave will be looking to do whatever it takes to make sure 2018 doesn’t end in the same cruel manner that 2017 did on the final day of their regular season.
The team will again turn to quarterback Justin McMillan for the fifth game in a row. The LSU-transfer has done wonders for the Wave in his time starting this season (save last week’s blowout loss against Houston). McMillan has tossed six touchdowns and is averaging over eight yards per attempt (107 throws) this year. Fritz’s gamble on giving him the starting job in late October certainly seems to have paid off and Tulane will need it to one last time on Saturday.
McMillan will be helped by two dynamic receivers in Terren Encalade and Darnell Mooney. Encalade will be playing in his final game at Yulman this weekend and will be trying to put an exclamation point on an impactful career in New Orleans. This season the senior wide out has snagged four touchdowns on 34 receptions while accumulating 599 total yards. Mooney is the only receiver in front of him with 852 yards and seven scores (42 catches).
On the ground the Green Wave boasts the talents of two more explosive playmakers; Darius Bradwell and Corey Dauphine. Bradwell leads the club in carries (150), yards (916) and touchdowns (nine). Tulane’s junior running back could easily play a pivotal role in this game as Navy’s run defense is allowing just under 200 yards and almost three touchdowns per contest. Dauphine too could be a major contributor as he enters this game with 740 yards and seven scores.
Don’t be surprised if McMillan calls his own number and carries the ball himself either. He has racked up 115 yards and three touchdowns with his legs from under center. Needless to say, the Wave has options as far as rushing is concerned.
Linebacker Zachery Harris will anchor Tulane’s defense which is tied for first in the American in sacks (33). Harris himself is responsible for only 1.5 of them but has still been instrumental in stopping the run with 8.5 tackles for loss. Good news because Navy runs a lot. Harris will be a busy man.
So too will the Wave’s D line. Guys like Robert Kennedy and Patrick Johnson will be trying to add to their impressive 11.5 combined sacks. Johnson is second in the AAC with nine. The duo has also teamed up for 20.5 tackles for loss.
Tulane’s secondary could have a relatively quiet day as the Mids are a run-first team and seldom turn to the air. In last season’s game Tulane-Navy game, the Midshipmen only completed four passes and ran the ball 52 times. Don’t expect things to be much different this time out.
With that being said, if the Mids do turn to the passing game they will need to be careful because Donnie Lewis and Roderic Teamer are nothing to scoff at. Lewis will be another senior playing in his final game in New Orleans and has three interceptions, 13 pass breakups and a touchdown this year. Teamer has one pick and five defended passes but more importantly is Tulane’s hardest-hitting DB. Navy receivers will have to be wary, even if they aren’t looked to often.
From Navy’s Perspective: Unlike Tulane’s seniors, Navy’s know there will be no postseason this time out. Besides the clash with Army, this is it. There isn’t much else to play for right now in Annapolis besides pride before the annual bout with the Black Knights but that doesn’t mean we should expect a lackluster team to take the field on Saturday in the Big Easy.
Navy will be led by senior quarterback Zach Abey who has completed just five of 11 passes for 79 yards and no touchdowns. Abey, like McMillan, knows how to tuck it and run himself as he has 295 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. His prolific rush ability could be a challenge for the Green Wave defense.
Where the Midshipmen will do most of their damage is by way of the run, as stated prior. Malcom Perry has rushed for over 1,000 yards on the year and, when paired with Abey, could be dangerous. These two have been a one-two punch for Navy all season and will undoubtedly be again on Saturday. They are the only two Midshipmen rushers to touch the ball over 100 times each.
Defensively Navy will lean on Taylor Heflin and Nizaire Cromartie, each of whom have three sacks to their name. Heflin leads the team with 84 total tackles (seven for loss) while Cromartie has forced two fumbles. The duo will have a tall task facing Tulane’s triple option attack that has proven to be a killer to opponents at points this season.
Defensive backs Jarid Ryan and Jake Springer will hold it down on the back end for Navy. Ryan has three interceptions this year and seven defended passes (leading the team in both categories) while Springer has two picks. Tulane’s receivers could pose a challenge to these two. The matchups on the outsides in this one will be fun to watch.
Springer and Perry, on top of having regular position duties, will also handle returns on special teams. Although neither has a touchdown yet, Springer has run back five kickoffs and eight punts while Perry is averaging almost 25 yards per kick return.
Final Thoughts: On paper this is a game Tulane should win but it will be a battle of strength v strength. Navy likes to run and Tulane likes to stop the run so whoever wins that fight will probably end up walking away with this one in hand. Let’s not forget, though, that the Wave is in dire need of this win. There are no ifs ands or buts about it, if Tulane doesn’t get the victory their season is over. After the way last year ended I can’t see them letting another season finale slip away, not without a dogfight anyways. Navy will be looking to play spoiler and get an all-important victory to build on before the Army game.
That being said, it will be Senior Day in New Orleans and you can bet that these Green Wave veterans want nothing more than to cap off their careers with a bowl game. With emotions running high and all this at stake, I just don’t see how Tulane doesn’t take care of business and come out on top.
Prediction: Tulane 27 – Navy 17