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Armed Forces Bowl Preview: Tulane Green Wave vs Southern Miss Golden Eagles

For the first time in nearly 10 years Tulane and Southern Miss will take the field together.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 22 Armed Forces Bowl - Houston v Army Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Location: Amon G, Carter Stadium – Forth Worth, TX

Date: Saturday, January 4

Time: 10:30 a.m. CT

TV: ESPN

Records: Tulane 0-0 (0-0 AAC), FIU 0-0 (0-0 C-USA)

Betting Line: Tulane -7; O/U 56.5

All-Time Series: Southern Miss leads 23-7-0

Last Meeting: Southern Miss 46, Tulane 30 (November 6, 2010)

Quick Hits: Believe it or not, there are other things going on in the football world besides the CFP, NFL postseason or today’s big Rose Bowl game. Yeah, I know... crazy. Once such thing is this weekend’s Armed Forces Bowl that pits two familiar foes against each other in a renewed Battle for the Bell.

Yes, that’s right. Tulane and Southern Miss will square off in one of the first games of the new decade and there’s a lot more on the line other than bragging rights over an old enemy. Both the Green Wave and the Golden Eagles come limping into this game; Southern Miss having lost its last two games and Tulane going a mere 1-5 over the latter half of the season. A win here for either team would be of great importance as another long offseason looms.

As far as the tale of the tape goes, these two are on pretty level ground. Willie Fritz, in his fourth season, has the Wave back in the bowl scene thanks to a dynamic offense that could seemingly score at will in times throughout the season. Southern Miss, led by fourth-year man Jay Hopson, is making its first bowl appearance since 2017 off the back of an offense that is averaging over 400 yards per contest.

We’re in for a fun one on Saturday.

From Southern Miss’ Perspective: The Golden Eagles offense all starts with quarterback Jack Abraham. The junior has had an incredible season throwing for a whopping 3,329 yards (2nd in C-USA behind only FAU’s Chris Robison). On top of that, Abraham has tossed 18 touchdowns and has a blazing completion percentage of 67.5%.

On thing that has tormented him this season, though, has been interceptions. Abraham has thrown 15 picks this season and may have his hands full against a stingy Green Wave secondary. Tulane DB Larry Brooks has intercepted three passes this season and could give Abraham headaches if he isn’t careful.

Taking some pressure off Abraham will be running backs De’Michael Harris and Kevin Perkins. The duo have combined for 995 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Harris leads the team with 541 yards and five scores while Perkins is averaging just under five yards per carry. That being said, Harris is currently tending to an upper-body injury and his status for the game is questionable. If he can’t go, expect Perkins and fellow back Steven Anderson to see an increased workload.

Then there’s the receivers and, more specifically, Quez Watkins. Watkins has been the guy for Southern Miss this season and finds himself atop nearly every major statistical category in C-USA. He ranks second in receiving yards (1,024), second in yards per catch (19.4) and first in yards per game (101.1). However you cut and dry it, the guy is a playmaker and could be the difference maker as Tulane is surrendering well over 200 passing yards per contest.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 22 Rice at Southern Miss
Quez Watkins leads C-USA in receiving yards per game with 101.1.
Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite those numbers, Watkins is not the most targeted receiver on the team. That accolade instead goes to Tim Jones. Jones, who has 66 receptions, has accumulated 840 yards and three touchdowns. Between him and Watkins, don’t be surprised if Southern Miss delivers some fireworks through the air.

Now let’s flip it over to the Golden Eagles defense. They currently rank third in C-USA with 36 sacks thanks in large part to linebacker Terry Whittington. Whittington is responsible for 7.5 sacks this year and 8.5 tackles for loss. He will be key in stopping elusive Tulane QB Justin McMillan.

On the back end, it will be up to guys like D.Q Thomas and Ky’El Hemby. Those two have a combined five picks and 155 tackles between them. Their job on Saturday? Stopping the likes of Green Wave receivers Darnell Mooney and Jalen McCleskey.

For all their talent on offense and defense, though, the X factor for the Golden Eagles may very well come by way of special teams. Jaylond Adams is as scary as they come when it comes to kick returns. He averages 30.8 yards per runback and has two touchdowns (all that is on only 10 returns). If a huge momentum swing comes via the return game, odds are it will be him that does it.

From Tulane’s Perspective: Now to the Greenies. Much like we said with Southern Miss, Tulane’s offense will live and die by their quarterback. Justin McMillan has 2,229 passing yards to his name along with 14 touchdowns. Perhaps more impressively though, he also leads the team in rushing with 704 yards and 12 more scores on the ground. He is the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback and if the Southern Miss defense is lacking in any department he’ll make them pay.

On the ground, the Wave boasts the talents of speedster Corey Dauphine and bruiser Darius Bradwell. Dauphine, the former high school track star, had 569 yards and seven touchdowns while Bradwell is just behind him with 448 yards and two scores. Tulane has a committee of backs that can get it done including these two and sophomore Amare Jones. Jones has four touchdowns and 353 yards this season.

McMillan has been aided greatly by the play of his receivers this year. Darnell Mooney leads the team in receiving yards (670), catches (45) and touchdowns (five). He averages 14.9 yards per reception as well. Joining him is Oklahoma State-transfer Jalen McCleskey who has 494 yards on 35 catches and three touchdowns. This duo will have be up against the Golden Eagles’ secondary that has authored 10 interceptions.

Defensively, the Wave will look to linebackers Lawrence Graham and Marvin Moody to thwart Southern Miss’s dynamic offense. Graham and Moody have combined for 114 tackles (13 for loss) and 3.5 sacks. It’s no secret that a major key to Tulane’s success will be keeping Abraham at bay and these two will play a huge part in that task.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 05 Tulane at Army
Lawrence Graham leads Tulane in tackles for loss and forced fumbles.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Up front, it’ll be Patrick Johnson and Cameron Sample to keep your eye on. Johnson has seven tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks while Sample has issued 41 total tackles this season as well as four batted away passes. They too will need to be stout against Abraham or it will be a long day for the Green Wave D.

The Wave has their own return dynamo on special teams. When he’s not on running back duty, Jones is fielding kick returns and doing it well. On 31 returns he has 670 yards but it’s his teammate Stephon Huderson that has Tulane’s lone kick return touchdown this season. As it was with Southern Miss, the X factor for the Greenies could come via special teams.

Final Thoughts: I don’t see how we can’t have a great one on our hands here. Even if you take out the fact that these are two old C-USA rivals from back in the day, you’ve still got two pretty evenly-matched teams with two head coaches with something to prove in their fourth year. Both clubs need a win badly after reeling in the final portion of the season and what better way to head into the offseason than with a bowl win over a rival?

Prediction: Tulane 34 - Southern Miss 31