Location: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium - Oxford, MS
Date: Saturday, September 18
Time: 7:00 p.m. CT
Records: Ole Miss 2-0 (0-0 SEC), Tulane 1-1 (0-0 AAC)
Betting Line: Ole Miss -14.5, O/U 76
All-Time Series: Ole Miss leads 41-28 *
Last Meeting: Ole Miss 39, Tulane 0 (September 22, 2012)
Quick Hits: The Rebels are coming off a dominant 54-17 victory over Austin Peay and are unbeaten on the young season. Injury-wise they may be without tight end Casey Kelly for a third straight week as Kelly has been sidelined with an unspecified injury for the first two games. Receiver Bralon Brown is also out with an undisclosed injury and he too could miss this game.
Tulane, like Ole Miss, is fresh off a blowout win over an FCS opponent in Morgan State. The Green Wave put up 69 points on the Bears last Saturday, the highest point-total since the program’s undefeated 1998 season. The Green Wave will play their first scheduled road game of the season despite not being able to play in New Orleans yet this year in the wake of Hurricane Ida.
From Ole Miss’ Perspective: Earlier this week Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin had high praise for the Green Wave, referring to them as “an SEC opponent”. He, like everyone else, took note of what Tulane was able to do in Oklahoma a few weeks ago. Ole Miss is not facing another run-of-the-mill non-conference tune-up game. Despite being ranked and at home, the Rebels can not treat the Wave as they might other G5 opponents, and they know it.
Slowing down Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt will be step one in avoiding an upset. That all starts with defensive lineman Sam Williams. Williams knows how to infiltrate the backfield and get to the passer. Last week against the Governors he registered two of the teams’ five sacks and finished with five total tackles. Just as effective as getting into the backfield, though, is DB Tylan Knight. Knight, who also authored five tackles last week, had 1.5 come for a loss. Getting to Pratt will be crucial and these two will look to play a big role in doing so.
Offensively the Rebels will be led by quarterback Matt Corral. The junior signal-caller has 5,600 career passing yards on a 66.8% completion percentage and has thrown for 43 touchdowns in his 3+ years at Ole Miss. This season he’s already tossed six touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception. He’ll need to keep that trend going against a physical and dangerous Tulane defense that has picked off opponents four times this year.
One of Corral’s favorite targets is receiver Dontario Drummond. Drummond leads the Rebels in catches (15), yards (284) and touchdowns (three). He looks to be one of the main playmakers on the outside for the Ole Miss offense and could very well be the difference-maker if the game is close.
The Rebels like to spread the wealth on the ground. 11 different ball carriers have toted the ball for the offense but the main two are running backs Henry Parish Jr. and Jerrion Ealy. The duo has combined for 195 yards on 32 carries and Ealy has found the end zone once. Snoop Conner leads Ole Miss in rushing scores with the three. There are options on the ground and don’t be surprised if they use them all.
From Tulane’s Perspective: All the talk right now is that the Green Wave are a legitimate contender in the AAC this year based off their performance in the first two games. This will be the chance to really prove that. Their second matchup against a ranked P5 school this season theoretically should be easier than the first. The Rebels, of course, are still a very good program but they feel much more in-reach than the Oklahoma team who Tulane hung tooth and nail with. Confidence won’t be an issue.
As stated earlier, Pratt is the engine that makes the offense go. This season he’s thrown for five touchdowns, 420 yards and, like his counterpart Corral, no interceptions. All that has come in essentially a game and a half of action as he, along with most of Tulane’s starters, were pulled by halftime of the win last week.
He can also make things happen on the ground. Pratt has rushed for 45 yards and two scores over the opening two games. He’ll need to utilize both his arms and legs against an Ole Miss defense that has held opposing offenses to an average of 230 passing yards and 134.5 rushing yards this year.
He’ll have a cornucopia of pass-catchers to throw to also. Duece and Phat Watts are viable options on the outside as is Jaetavian Toles and Tyrick James. James is Tulane’s leading receiver with eight catches and 142 yards while Toles is averaging over 15 yards per catch. Also dangerous through the air is running back Cameron Carroll who has caught two touchdowns this fall. The Rebels secondary could have a tall order with all the receiving options the Wave has to offer.
It isn’t just Tulane’s offense, though, that’s chalked full of playmakers. Linebackers Nick Anderson and Dorian Williams have already been a force this season with a combined 22 tackles and the other backers aren’t bad either. Kevin Henry has nine tackles and an interception that he took all the way for a touchdown. If the Wave are to stay with Ole Miss, the high level of linebacker play will need to continue.
The secondary, as it always has been under head coach Willie Fritz, is hard-hitting and ball-hawking. Larry Brooks and Macon Clark know how to hold it down and stymie opposing receivers. Brooks has five tackles this year (one for loss) and defended pass while Clark’s stats are similar with an additional interception. Like they did against the Sooners, Tulane will need to create turnovers and if they do, odds are one of these guys will be the reason why.
Final Thoughts: This is a game that Ole Miss should win. Then again, however, the Sooners should have had little trouble with this Tulane team and yet they had to hold on in the final minutes. The Rebels can’t overlook the Wave and odds are they probably won’t. Kiffin will have his guys ready but even fully aware of Tulane’s ability, can they avoid the upset? The talent is certainly there but the Green Wave have something even scarier than talent: a swagger and well-founded belief that they can beat anyone they line up against. A hurricane, two impromptu road games and the Sooners couldn’t keep them down and you have to believe they’ll be rolling into Oxford with that mindset that they are indeed an SEC opponent. This is going to be a doozy and as it stands right now, that 14.5-point spread is not doing this game justice.
Prediction: Ole Miss 34 - Tulane 31
*- Ole Miss vacated two wins over Tulane in 2010 and 2012 as part of NCAA penalties