If you watched ESPN’s broadcast of the Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday, you would have seen a shot of Tulane offensive coordinator yelling at his offense on the sideline. At the time, the Green Wave trailed Southern Miss 13-0 and they hadn’t even run four offensive plays. As it turned out, though, that would be the moment that turned everything around and the one that would set Tulane on a course to win its second consecutive bowl game in as many years.
The Golden Eagles started fast in Fort Worth. It only took Jack Abraham and the Southern Miss offense eight plays to get on the board. Neither Tulane’s defense nor an untimely holding penalty could stop USM. On 3rd and 17 on their opening drive, Abraham hit his all-conference receiver Quez Watkins for a 44-yd score in which he went quite literally untouched into the end zone.
Following a missed PAT, the Golden Eagles held Tulane’s offense to a 3-and-out and by the time Justin McMillan and company ran their fourth play, the Wave already trailed 13-0 thanks to another touchdown drive by Southern Miss.
It was appearing as though the Green Wave was about to be on the wrong end of a blowout. The Tulane defense began to stiffen up, however, and stopped the Golden Eagles on several critical third downs and a inches-to-go fourth down midway through the second quarter.
The Wave’s offense still struggled, though, as kicker Merek Glover was responsible for their only points of the first half with a pair of 31-yd field goals.
Wave fans felt lucky to be trailing by only a touchdown at the break.
The tides really began to turn in the second half. After compiling a meager 74 yards in the entire first half, McMillan and the Tulane offense went 77 on their opening drive of the second half including a 52-yard TD bomb to receiver Jalen McCleskey.
Being tied at 13 all was a sore sight for Southern Miss. An even sorer one was seeing Abraham standing on the sideline while the Golden Eagles offense came out out of halftime. After already having lost running back De’Michael Harris earlier in the contest, USM could ill-afford to be without their starting QB and the results showed.
After Glover gave Tulane its first lead, Golden Eagles backup quarterback Tate Whatley threw an ill-advised pass while being tackled that was intercepted by Green Wave DB Larry Brooks. One play later, McMillan found Jacob Robertson Jr. for a seven-yard touchdown. Just like that Tulane led 23-13 .
Things only got worse for Southern Miss as McMillan would connect on his third touchdown of the day toward the end of the third quarter, this time a 20-yard strike to Amare Jones. A game that had once been dominated by USM was now being blown of the hinges by Tulane.
Unfortunately for the Golden Eagles there really wasn’t a lot of success after the first quarter except for a few 3rd down sacks in the red zone on defense.
Quez Watkins... though he had a few bad drops... played well finishing with 8 catches for 121 yards and a TD. The all C-USA WR made an impact when he could but unfortunately Whatley rarely had a clean pocket to throw from.
Tate Whatley came in for the injured Jack Abraham and showed some relatively impressive athleticism though was not ultimately able to make a significant impact on the game adding a garbage time pick in the end zone to end the game
With Jack Abraham out, Southern Miss just wasn’t able to get anything going at all on offense. The Golden Eagles gave up 30 unanswered points when all was said and done.
Final Thoughts: Southern Miss fans have to be disappointing in Saturday’s showing. Injuries of course didn’t help matters but the team ended 2019 with a whimper. Jay Hopson and the Golden Eagles finish the year barely above .500 at 7-6. This will need to be a productive offseason in Hattiesburg.
What a win for Tulane, and not just because it was over an old rival. For the first time in school history, head coach Willie Fritz has delivered two consecutive bowl wins. The Wave... like they did last season... end the year on a high note with a 7-6 overall record. Questions loom over how the team will handle losing guys like Darnell Mooney, Jalen McCleskey and Justin McMillan but for now that should be the furthest thing from our minds. Tulane is headed home with an Armed Forces Bowl trophy and a bell!