Location: Camping World Stadium – Orlando, FL
Date: Saturday, December 15
Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
Records: Tulane 6-6 (5-3 AAC), Louisiana 7-6 (6-4 AAC)
Betting Line: Tulane -3.5; O/U 59
All-Time Series: Tulane leads 22-6
Last Meeting: Tulane 41, Louisiana 39 (Sep. 24, 2016)
Quick Hits: The Green Wave come into their first bowl game since 2013 geared up and ready to go. The only major injury that has plagued Tulane is that of defensive end Robert Kennedy. The senior suffered a torn ACL back in November, ending his season. Kennedy has accounted for 32 total tackles and three sacks this year.
Louisiana last saw bowl action in 2016 and comes into the Cure Bowl following a defeat at the hands of Appalachian State in the inaugural Sun Belt championship game. Their appearance in that contest means they have had one week less rest than Tulane but it should hardly matter. Like the Wave, the Cajuns may also be without a defensive player. Terik Miller has missed the last three games with a knee issue and is listed as questionable for Saturday. Miller is responsible for 38 total tackles this season.
From Louisiana’s Perspective: Billy Napier has done quite a job in his first season at the helm in Lafayette. Under his coaching, the Cajuns won seven games, found themselves in the newly minted Sun Belt title game and reached bowl status; not too shabby for Napier’s first go at it.
A big reason why Louisiana found success this year was the play of their offense. Senior QB Andre Nunez has piloted a Cajuns unit that ranks near the top of the conference in several major categories including scoring (2nd - 32.5 points per game) and yards (2nd - 437.1 yards per game).
Nunez himself is having a stellar year, completing 64.4% of his throws and has eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. He has tossed 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on the season and has accounted for another three scores on the ground, a place Louisiana is dangerous at as well.
Trey Ragas has been striking fear into opposing defenses all season long. The sophomore running back has accumulated 1,141 total rushing yards this season along with eight touchdowns. That paired with fellow back Elijah Mitchell’s 951 yards and 12 scores has helped the Cajuns offense rank third in the Sun Belt in rush yards per contest (229.1).
That ground attack will be key in this one, especially against a Tulane D that is stout against the run. The Wave only surrenders 153.9 yards per contest (second best in the AAC) and that could spell trouble for the Cajuns. In their seven victories this year, Louisiana averaged 288.4 yards in those games but in their six defeats, they only average 159.8. Their success could easily hinge on how well the backs perform.
On the outside, receivers Ja’Marcus Bradley and Ryheem Malone will look to be X factors in a game that we anticipate to be run-heavy. Bradley leads the Cajuns with 557 yards and 10 touchdowns while Malone is right behind with 466 yards and three scores. If things get ugly in the trenches, look for Nunez to turn to these two.
Louisiana struggles a bit more on the other side of the ball. Napier’s defense gives up 432.3 yards per outing (222.3 passing and 210 rushing) and has yielded 54 total touchdowns on the year, that’s over four per game. Those numbers don’t exactly instill faith but the good news for Louisiana is that Tulane is no juggernaut on offense either. The Green Wave ranks toward the bottom of the AAC in scoring (25.7 points per game).
The Cajuns boast one of the Sun Belt’s best kickers in Kyle Pfau. The senior has made 51 of his 52 PATs this season and has a 82.4% field goal accuracy (14-of-17). He ranks second in the conference with that percentage. If the game is tight at the end, Louisiana has to feel confident in their chances with Pfau.
From Tulane’s Perspective: In their first bowl game during the Willie Fritz era, the Green Wave will look to keep riding what got them here: running the ball. This season, the Wave has boasted a team of ball carriers that know how to gash opposing defenses.
Corey Dauphine, a Texas Tech transfer, has helped ignite the Tulane rushing attack that puts up 208.2 yards per contest. Dauphine is a former track star whose speed has proven to be deadly. The junior has racked up 754 yards and seven touchdowns this season and is behind only Darius Bradwell (982 yards and nine touchdowns) on the team. The duo have been instrumental in the Green Wave’s success this season and will need to continue their dominance again on Saturday if Tulane wants a shot at keeping up with Louisiana’s offense.
Quarterback Justin McMillan knows how to run the ball too. He has accounted for four scores on the ground on 49 carries. McMillan has been explosive as a passer also (which is why he was granted the starting job midway through the season). He has thrown for 1,159 yards and nine touchdowns this year.
He has been assisted by big-receivers Terren Encalade and Darnell Mooney. Mooney leads the club 987 yards and eight touchdowns with a whopping 21 yard-per-reception average while Encalade has 634 yards and four touchdowns. Like the Cajuns receivers, Tulane’s could be the deciding factors if the ground game goes stagnant.
Where the Wave really has the chance to shine, though, is on defense and specifically up front. Patrick Johnson knows how to get to the quarterback and get him on the ground. Tulane’s sophomore defensive end has 9.5 sacks on the season and 14 tackles for loss. He will be instrumental in thwarting the Cajuns ball carriers as will linebacker Zachery Harris. Harris has a team-best 86 total tackles this season.
Tulane has two... yes two... punters that may see action on Saturday. Senior Zachary Block has been the team’s steady leg throughout his time in NOLA but he is joined this year by freshman Ryan Wright who has made a name for himself. Wright is averaging nearly 45 yards per punt this year and could be huge in terms of the field position battle.
Final Thoughts: I hope the scoreboard in Camping World Stadium is ready for this one because we could see a lot of points. Louisiana’s offense is potent as could be and Tulane’s has shown glimpses of breakout performances as well. If the Wave plays anything like they did against South Florida or Memphis earlier in the year, then we could be in for a blow-for-blow type of game.
Where the game will be won and lost will most likely be when it’s Tulane’s D vs Louisiana’s offense. If the Wave can render the Cajuns’ rushing attack ineffective then a victory would most likely follow. Ditto for the Green Wave’s rushing attack and Louisiana’s defense. Neither one of these teams function well as a one-trick pony. Whoever wins the battle up front will probably win this game.
Prediction: Tulane 34 - Louisiana 31