Location: Yulman Stadium – New Orleans, LA
Date: Thursday, August 29
Time: 7:00 p.m. CT
Records: Tulane 0-0 (0-0 AAC), FIU 0-0 (0-0 C-USA)
Betting Line: Tulane -3; O/U 55.5
All-Time Series: FIU leads 1-0-0
Last Meeting: FIU 23, Tulane 10 (October 14, 2017)
Quick Hits: Tomorrow night will mark the second consecutive year that Tulane has begun their season at home with a prime time Thursday matchup. Green Wave fans, though, are hoping this year’s inaugural game goes better than last year’s ugly OT loss to Wake Forest. Willie Fritz’s team is coming off a bowl season... something the Tulane faithful haven’t seen often as of late... and will be looking for a very important season-opening win against a talented and deep FIU club.
The Panthers too are coming in with high expectations. After missing out on a C-USA title game berth by a mere game last year, many think it’s boom or bust for the 2019 FIU program. Quarterback James Morgan seems poised to lead the Panthers over that hump and with a tremendously deep running back committee, who’s to say they can’t rule Conference USA this season? It will need to start with a win at Yulman.
From FIU’s Perspective: We’ll get right to it, the Panthers need to find some answers on their defensive line or it’s going to be a long night in New Orleans. Much like themselves, Tulane boasts a running back committee with great depth and that could spell trouble for a FIU line that came in near the bottom of the conference in several categories including a run defense that allowed over 190 yards per game. What’s more is that that unit has since lost four players that saw significant game time.
The Green Wave have just the guys who could take advantage of such a line. Darius Bradwell and Corey Dauphine served as Tulane’s one-two punch in 2018 by racking up 18 combined touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards between the two of them.
The good news for the Panthers, though, is that what they may lack in the trenches they make up for on the back end. Last season corner Stanley Thomas-Oliver III knocked away 10 passes and intercepted another while safety Richard Dames recorded three picks and got in on 46 total tackles. That may be huge against a Tulane receiving corps that lost one of its best seniors last year in Terren Encalade.
Offensively, FIU will boast the talents of graduate senior James Morgan. Last season, Morgan shredded opposing defenses for 2,727 yards and 26 touchdowns while only tossing seven interceptions. With receivers like Austin Maloney (610 yards and five TDs in 2018) and Maurice Alexander (474 yards, five TD) in the fray, Morgan and the offense could see a big night through the air especially seeing as Tulane’s secondary bid farewell to two of it’s finest DBs in Roderic Teamer and Donnie Lewis.
As far as the ground attack goes, expect FIU to feed it to a multitude of guys. Napoleon Maxwell and Anthony Jones could both see a heavy workload if the game allows for it. Last fall the duo combined for 1,022 yards and 13 scores. They’ll have to be wary of a Green Wave D-line that has the explosive Patrick Johnson though. In 2018, Johnson had a team-high 10 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
If the Panthers can find success through the air against that Tulane secondary riddled with questions then they could very easily come out of this one 1-0. In fact, they may have to look to the air more often than usual as Tulane’s defensive big men are projected by many to be some of the best in the nation. Success through the air may very well be the difference in winning and losing.
From Tulane’s Perspective: If the Wave is going to come away with a victory, you can almost certainly bet it will have to come on the back of their own graduate QB in Justin McMillan. Many point to him as saving Tulane’s season a year ago but now the secret is out and all eyes will be focused on #12, including those of the Panther defense. The dynamic McMillan will have to make plays with his arm and his legs to give the Greenies a chance but... good news Tulane fans... he knows how to do just that. In 2018 McMillan rushed for 238 yards and five touchdowns on top of his 1,304 passing yards and 10 TDs through the air.
McMillan will also be aided by a bruising running back corps that we’ve already discussed briefly. Both Bradwell and Dauphine know how to pound a defense but the Wave should also lean on some of their up-and-comers like Stephon Huderson and Amare Jones. As a freshman last year, Jones made a name for himself with 216 yards and four scores. Huderson had 281 yards.
On the other side, Tulane will need to have a game plan for those explosive FIU receivers like Maloney and Alexander. Failing to find an answer for those two and Morgan could (and probably would) be the Wave’s undoing. This matchup will be tough for guys like safety Chase Kuerschen but it’ll be a good litmus test for Fritz in telling him where his DBs stand against some pretty solid receivers.
Tulane’s front end can more than make up for what they may be lacking in the secondary. Johnson, as we’ve mentioned, is a nightmare for opposing offenses as is linebacker Marvin Moody. Moody posted 69 total tackles last year with five going for a loss. Another linebacker, Lawrence Graham, is coming off a pretty impressive season himself with 4.5 sacks and 61 total tackles. These guys will be key in keeping FIU’s ground attack at bay.
Final Thoughts: What a treat to start the new campaign! In many ways, Butch Davis’ Panthers and Fritz’s Green Wave are mirror images of each other and the game could very easily swing either way. It will all come down to how each’s defenses can rise to the occasion. Can the Panthers line keep Tulane’s backs in check? Can the Green Wave secondary shut down the FIU air attack? Which ever one of those questions gets answered with a “yes” then that team will almost certainly come away with the victory and... coming from two conferences that are shaping up to be tight in 2019... it’ll be a much-needed victory at that.
Prediction: FIU 31 - Tulane 30