Saturday was a day unlike any other for the Tulane football team. A weeklong endeavor of impromptu road practices culminated in a football game; one that the Green Wave didn’t know a week ago they’d even get to play. While Hurricane Ida tore through the state of Louisiana, the gridiron was the furthest thing from the minds of most but on Saturday, finally, the players could turn their attention to football. As they took the field before a raucous crowd in Norman, OK one thing was clear; wherever this team played they were welcome with open arms.
Maybe it was the heartfelt signs of support from Sooners fans that dotted the stadium or perhaps it was the familiar “Angry Wave” logo that Oklahoma had so thoughtfully painted on their 25-yard lines as this was, after all, supposed to be a Tulane home game. It certainly was not your typical hostile road environment.
Pleasantries aside, though, there was a game to be played and if you didn’t know any better, the Green Wave looked no worse for the wear when things kicked off. On just the second snap of the game, Tulane DB Jadon Candy undercut a deep pass from Spencer Rattler and picked it off. Michael Pratt came in and promptly led his offense on an eight-play, 55-yard drive that was capped with a wide-open touchdown pass to running back Cameron Carroll.
OU answered with a lengthy scoring drive of their own but again Tulane’s offense responded perfectly. Offensive coordinator Chip Long, calling only his second game with the Wave, drew plays up beautifully on the first two drives and oftentimes left the Sooners defense looking confused. The Green Wave’s second drive only took four plays before Jaetavian Toles cut a run into the end zone to put the Greenies back up 14-7. Things were firing on all cylinders and by this point the Sooners had to feel some pressure.
When the first quarter came to a close the teams found themselves knotted up at 14 apiece; not great when you’re the #2 team in the country and very promising if you’re the team coming in as the 31-point underdog.
The second quarter, however, spelled a very different story. OU took their first lead five minutes into the frame when running back Kennedy Brooks pushed his way in on fourth and goal from a yard out. Shortly after, Pratt mishandled a snap and coughed up the ball deep in Oklahoma territory where the Green Wave D tightened down and allowed just a field goal. That was a tiny victory but unfortunately for Tulane, the turnover demons weren’t gone yet. On the first play of the next drive, Pratt again fumbled as he was hit from behind on a run by Isaiah Thomas. Again the Sooners recovered with excellent field position but again the defense held them to just three.
All things considered, Tulane was lucky to just be trailing by 13 at this point however the momentum had clearly swung 180 degrees in OU’s favor. Rattler would connect on his first touchdown pass of the afternoon later in the second when he found Mario Williams in the flat. Williams took it in to put the Sooners on top 34-14.
As if things weren’t already piling up enough for Willie Fritz and his team, Pratt got hit hard on a sliding play toward the end of the half and had to sit out a play. Fortunately, he returned shortly after but also leaving with an injury was linebacker Nick Anderson. Anderson went down with what appeared to be cramping right before the intermission. Oklahoma would tack on a 56-yard field goal as time expired and went into the locker room leading 37-14.
The second half didn’t start much better. Pratt continued to get thrown around by the OU defensive line but was still able to hang tough enough to lead the team into field goal range. Sophomore kicker Graham Dable missed his 41-yard attempt, though, and they were unable to cut into the deficit.
The Green Wave D again stiffened up despite being a victim of circumstance and stopped Brooks on fourth down to give the ball back to the offense in OU territory. This time Pratt and company were able to do something with it. An 11-play drive was capped with a four-yard touchdown run by Pratt. Deuce Watts jetted in on the two-point conversion and just like that the game felt a little more in reach. Tulane trailed 22-37.
Sooners kicker Gabe Brkic drilled his third field goal of the day from beyond 50 before the end of the third but early in the fourth Green Wave safety Macon Clark snagged Rattler’s second interception on a beautiful diving play. The turnover would set up Pratt for his second touchdown pass of the day to Carroll to draw the Wave to within 12. A failed two-point try would ensure that score remained 28-40 but still, Tulane was clawing their way back in.
It appeared shortly after that Clark would have another interception but a questionable defensive pass interference gave the Sooners a fresh set of downs. That could have been the moment the Wave called it in for the day but still, the defense held strong and forced a field goal attempt in which Brkic surprisingly missed badly. They weren’t dead yet.
Pratt once again orchestrated another long drive, making play after play. With 2:18 to go, he found his tight end Will Wallace for a five-yard score. Unbelievably Tulane was only down five. What was a scary situation for Oklahoma turned downright nightmarish moments later when the Green Wave fell on the onside kick and gave the ball back to the red hot offense at midfield. There was more than a chance now.
Three plays that went nowhere but backward, though, pushed the offense into a difficult 4th and long situation. Pratt took the snap and tried his damndest to do it himself. He stumbled, ran and dove for the all-important first down but came up a half-yard short of the line to gain. A couple of OU handoffs iced it and that was that.
Teams around the AAC better heed the warning Tulane left in Norman on Saturday. This team will not go quietly this year. A team that was a sleeper pick a few weeks ago now needs to be reconsidered as a legitimate contender. Not only did they come up just five points shy of a colossal upset of the No. 2 team but there were little things throughout the game that were major positives for Fritz’s team.
Pratt is as tough as they come. Despite being thrown around virtually all game he made plays happen with both his arm and legs and didn’t exhibit any shyness. This Tulane team will go as far as he can take them and if this game was any indication, the sky’s the limit. Pratt finished his impressive day with three touchdowns, no interceptions and 296 passing yards. There are no two ways about it, he outdueled the Heisman favorite.
The Green Wave defense also has nothing to be ashamed of. They held a high-octane offense to 40 points and, more importantly, gave their own offense the chances it needed to keep things within striking distance. Had Tulane not suffered a few costly turnovers of its own early on, they may very well have left victorious. Hard hits and big stops were a huge part of what the defense did on Saturday and if that formula keeps up, they’ll be just fine.
The mental fortitude shown by this group was nothing short of extraordinary, not just within the game but the week leading up to it. Most teams wouldn’t be able to hang with an opponent like Oklahoma on the road after enduring a week of upended schedules and relocated workouts. Fritz has built something very special in New Orleans, he has been for six years and now the fruits of his labor are starting to show on the field. Buckle up Wave fans, 2021 is going to be a special ride.
Tulane will take on Morgan State next weekend in Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama as it is deemed still unsafe to play at home. Kickoff is slated for 6:00 PM CT.