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Tulane Green Wave at #21 SMU Mustangs: Preview, Start Time, TV, Predictions

Can a reeling Green Wave squad finally find their footing against undefeated SMU?

Tulane v SMU Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Location: Gerald J. Ford Stadium - University Park, TX

Date: Thursday, October 21

Time: 11:00 a.m. CT

TV: ESPN

Records: , Tulane 1-5 (0-2 AAC), SMU 6-0 (2-0 AAC)

Betting Line: SMU -13.0, O/U 73.5

All-Time Series: SMU leads 14-13

Last Meeting: Tulane 34, SMU 37 (October 16, 2020)

Quick Hits: The Green Wave enter this game fresh off a bye week and will playing their second straight Thursday night contest after falling to Houston two weeks ago. Willie Fritz’s team is in desperate need of a win if they are to keep their fading bowl hopes alive but the task will be difficult as SMU will be the third ranked opponent they’ve faced this season.

The Mustangs also come in following a week off and are undefeated on the 2021 campaign. They look to defeat Tulane for the seventh consecutive time, continuing a win streak that dates back to the 2015 season.

From Tulane’s Perspective: It’s do or die right now for the Wave. A season that began with so much hope has crumbled to give way to a dismal 1-5 start, the worst such start the Green Wave have suffered with Fritz as their head coach. The job of turning their season around won’t be easy and Fritz has never beaten SMU in his time with Tulane but there’s a first time for everything, right?

It will all need to start with Michael Pratt, the Green Wave’s freshman signal caller. Pratt began his season with great success having thrown for seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his first three games. Since then, however, he’s tossed five picks and coughed the ball up several times.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Tulane at Ole Miss
Michael Pratt (#7) has thrown for 1,373 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.
Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pratt will have to play better and may be able to against a Mustangs defense that’s surrendering just over 390 yards per contest. If he isn’t running the ball himself, expect Pratt to look to tight end Tyrick James. James leads Tulane in receiving yards with 343 on 22 catches and has three touchdowns to his name.

Receiver Jaetavian Toles will also need to make plays for the Green Wave offense. Toles currently averages 15.3 yards per reception and has hauled in two scores of his own. SMU’s pass defense gives up 251.8 yards per contest this year so that bodes well for Tulane’s wideouts.

The running game may be a different story, though. Cameron Carroll has not put up the numbers many expected so far this year, rushing for just 272 total yards and two touchdowns in the first six games. He will need to have a breakout performance for the Green Wave to set a tone on the road.

All of this, of course, will not matter if Tulane’s offensive line plays like they did against Houston two weeks ago. The Cougars sacked Pratt eight times in that contest as Tulane rushers only got 94 total yards. Corey Dublin is the anchor up front but if his group plays as they have of late, it will be a long night.

The only bunch that needs to improve more than the line is Tulane’s defense. SMU knows how to win track meets and the Green Wave has had a knack for giving up big plays and lots of yards thus far in 2021. The secondary, spearheaded by Larry Brooks and Macon Clark, will have the dubious honor of trying to shut down some of the best receivers the American has to offer in Danny Gray and Rashee Rice.

The Mustangs gain over 500 offensive yards per game and nearly 200 of those come on the ground meaning that Tulane’s defensive front will need to find an answer for Ulysess Bentley. Bentley is running like a madman this season but has also proven to be a threat in the passing game. Linebacker Dorian Williams will be key in slowing him down as he’s currently second on the team in tackles (37) and has a fumble recovery.

From SMU’s Perspective: So far it’s been an impressive season for fourth-year head coach Sonny Dykes and his team. The unbeaten Mustangs have gotten to where they are on the backs of their high-powered offense and, more specifically, their surgical passing attack.

Quarterback Tanner Mordecai is blazing hot right now, throwing an unbelievable 26 touchdowns through the first six games (that’s an average of over four per game for those of you counting at home). Mordecai is already nearing the 2,000-yard mark with 1,893 and has spread the ball to 15 different Mustang receivers. He could be in for a big day against the struggling Tulane defense.

Mordecai has been helped greatly by receivers such as the aforementioned Gray and Rice. Gray leads SMU with 30 receptions, 469 yards and seven touchdowns while Rice is right behind him 375 yards and six scores on as many catches.

Bentley, too, is contributing majorly to SMU’s offensive production. He and fellow back Tre Siggers account for two thirds of the team’s total touchdowns on the ground and have combined for 798 total rushing yards. If the Mustangs are able to get a healthy lead, expect a heavy dose of one or either of these two.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 SMU at TCU
Ulysses Bentley (#7) has rushed for 405 yards on 55 carries for SMU.
Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensively SMU will need to key in Pratt as he’s undoubtedly the engine that makes Tulane’s offense hum. If he’s on, then the Green Wave could be able to keep pace for a while. Linebacker Shane Hailey, who has 37 tackles (three for loss), will look to body up the Wave’s myriad of rushers while defensive end Gary Wiley (four sacks) will be trying to disrupt Pratt.

Final Thoughts: SMU has everything go for it right now while Tulane seemingly has everything going against it. The Mustangs, playing at home, have the upper hand in most every major deciding factor. It’s hard to pick against the AAC’s leading offense, especially as they go up against a struggling defense. SMU didn’t just stumble into their 6-0 record and #21 ranking and they’re going to show that on Thursday.

Prediction: Tulane 24 - SMU 37