Location: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium -Norman, OK
Date: Saturday, September 4
Time: 11:00 a.m. CT
Records: , Tulane 0-0 (0-0 AAC), Oklahoma 0-0 (0-0 Big 12)
Betting Line: Oklahoma -31.5, O/U 69
All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 1-0
Last Meeting: Tulane 14, Oklahoma 56 (September 16, 2017)
Quick Hits: The Green Wave football team has been practicing in Alabama this week due to the devastating effects Hurricane Ida, a category 4 storm, has had on the state of Louisiana. The game, originally slated to be played in Yulman Stadium this Saturday, was moved to Norman with safety being an obvious primary concern. Tulane will still be the designated home team in this contest.
The Sooners enter the season at No. 2 in the nation and have very real national championship aspirations with projected #1 pick Spencer Rattler under center. Oklahoma, coming off a Big 12 championship, is returning several of last year's starters and will look to hit the ground running against a Tulane team that many pick as a sleeper in the AAC this year.
From Tulane’s Perspective: This week has been a trying one for the state of Louisiana, to say the least, and the Green Wave football team is a microcosm of that. While Tulane University itself shut down classes and sheltered students from the effects of Hurricane Ida, which made landfall in New Orleans on Sunday, the football program pushed on and did so quite admirably. After being relocated to Birmingham for practice earlier in the week, the news broke on Monday afternoon that the team’s opener against Oklahoma had been moved to the safety of Norman; another wrinkle in the tumultuous week.
The show must go on, though, and go on it will with quarterback Michael Pratt leading the way for the Wave. If Tulane has any single player to watch in this contest it’s undoubtedly Pratt who, as a sophomore, finds himself on the Manning Award watchlist. As a true freshman last season he got the starting nod four games in and didn’t look back. Finishing 2020 with 1,806 passing yards and 28 total touchdowns, there’s no reason to believe he will be backing off at all this year. Head Coach Willie Fritz certainly seems to have found his guy for the foreseeable future; welcome news to a program that as of late as been relying on the talent of a different grad transfer every season.
One thing Pratt will have working in his favor is a talented receiving corps. The Watts brothers, Duece and Phat, are back and look to be the go-to guys on the outside. The JuCo transfers put up a combined 729 receiving yards last fall with Duece leading the team at 512 of his own. Last year’s leading touchdown catcher Jha’Quan Jackson is also returning but unfortunately for the Wave, however, former OU receiver and grad-transfer Mykel Jones suffered a torn ACL earlier this summer and will miss the entire 2021 campaign.
Nonetheless, there are still options in the passing game and that’s good because Oklahoma boasts a scary secondary. Despite losing corner Tre Brown to the NFL, the Sooners will have a pair of seniors, Delarrin Turner-Yell and Pat Fields, patrolling the back end. Not only will Tulane receivers need to be on their toes every snap, but Pratt will likely have no margin for error on many of these throws.
As far as the Green Wave rushing attack is concerned, there are some nagging questions that will be answered this weekend, the main one being how does the team move on from Amare Jones and Stephon Henderson? Those two entered the transfer portal this offseason and it leaves the door open for someone else to be the main load barer. Fritz prefers the “by committee” approach when it comes to the rushing attack as last year the Green Wave saw 13 different ball carriers get touches, but don’t be surprised if the bulk of the work goes to sophomore Cameron Carroll now. Carroll was the team’s leading rusher by a landslide with 12 scores a year ago and came in just behind Huderson in rushing yards with 741.
All things considered, it isn’t so much Tulane’s offense fans ought to be worried about heading into a game with the Sooners. That group should be able to hold their own for a good while. The defensive side, though, is where things start to get dicey.
Pass-rushing studs Patrick Johnson and Cameron Sample will now be playing on Sundays and that means pressure on the opposing QB will have to come from somewhere else. Enter Jefferey Johnson. Tulane’s 330-lb nose tackle nearly dipped his toes in the transfer portal this summer before deciding to stay and the team has to be thrilled he did. Johnson has registered 91 total tackles and 7.5 sacks on his career. He’ll be key in thwarting an OU rushing attack led by Kennedy Brooks and the ever-mobile Rattler.
The Wave’s linebackers will also share in that tall task but they seem to have the right guys for the job, namely Dorian Williams and Nick Anderson. Williams is only a sophomore but has 111 tackles to his name, 15.5 of which came for a loss along with 3.5 sacks. He’s quickly becoming one of the best linebackers in the AAC and needs to raise some hell if Tulane is to have a shot at slowing down the high-octane Sooners offense. Anderson too will help the cause as he is coming off a campaign where he notched 10.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
The secondary, like everyone else on defense, will have a big job too. Cornerback Jaylon Monroe looks to lead the way for his group as they square up with one of the best receivers the Big 12 has to offer in Marvin Mims. Monroe authored 30 total tackles last year and had seven PBUs. With three interceptions on his career but none in 2020, getting one against the Sooners would be huge. Monroe won’t be alone, though, and will be joined by fellow DB Larry Brooks. Brooks snagged three picks last fall and put up 54 tackles. If the Wave manages to stay close in this one, you can bet it will be because this duo is holding up well.
From Oklahoma’s Perspective: It may not be the way they wished it, but Lincoln Riley and company get an unexpected home game and that actually goes quite a ways as Step One of avoiding a colossal upset in the opening week. Now of course the Sooners will still have to come to play because Tulane won’t roll over but they aren’t the No. 2 team in the country without reason.
Their QB is pegged right now to be the first selection in the 2022 NFL Draft and why wouldn’t he be? Last year as a freshman Rattler eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark and tossed 28 touchdowns as he led Oklahoma to a Big 12 title. Barring some major, unforeseen setback, there’s little doubt that he’ll be able to do it all again but even better in 2021. The kid has it all and if he plays as he did a year ago, Tulane’s defense will be in big trouble.
We’ve already mentioned some of the weapons he’ll have through the air with likes of Mims, although the Sooners do take a hit as Theo Wease suffered an injury in practice on Wednesday and is out indefinately. Mims caught 37 passes a year ago for 610 yards and nine scores. Throw in junior tight end Austin Stonger and you’ve got the makings of a scary passing game.
Brooks will handle duties on the ground. He rushed for 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019 before sitting out last season with COVID concerns, but he’s fully rested and back now which means more trouble for the Green Wave D. If for whatever reason the passing game is struggling to click for the Sooners they’ll have somewhere else to turn.
On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma will have some serious pass-rush power. DE Nik Bonitto, who registered 9.0 sacks in 2020, is back and counterpart Isaiah Thomas could be also. Thomas is facing a potential suspension for an off-field issue but if he is able to play, Tulane’s O-line led by Corey Dublin could have a long day trying to deal with these two and if Pratt isn’t upright, then Oklahoma’s chances get a lot better.
Final Thoughts: No matter how you cut this one, this is a really tough game for Tulane, and that’s before all the real-world problems they’re facing. Oklahoma is a blueblood that often times romps in these sorts of games. Everything will have to be clicking perfectly if the Green Wave is to have a shot at the monster upset. There can be no mistakes. Turnovers against a team like OU will be a death sentence and conversely, creating them is a must. The name of the game is to keep Rattler off the field as much as possible. Let’s remember, the 2017 iteration of this game saw the Green Wave tied with the Sooners at the end of the opening quarter so, anything is possible with a Willie Fritz team. But ultimately this is Oklahoma's game to lose. If they do what they’re supposed to and play competent football then they should cruise to a victory.
Prediction: Tulane 23 - Oklahoma 42