SMU Mustangs (6-4, 4-2 American) vs Tulane Green Wave (8-2, 5-1 American)
Time and Date: 7:30 PM ET, November 17
Broadcast Network: ESPN
Location: Yulman Stadium - New Orleans, LA
ESPN FPI: Tulane, 65.3%
Line: Tulane -3*
Point Total: 65*
All-Time Series: SMU leads the all-time series against Tulsa, 15-13
Last Meeting: SMU 55 Tulane 26 - October 21, 2021
Current Streak: SMU, 7
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Setting the Scene
All eyes will be on the Green Wave as they take on SMU in prime time on Thursday. Tulane are in the midst of their best season since 1998. However, their momentum was halted with a 38-31 loss to UCF this past weekend.
Still, there is ton of optimism Uptown New Orleans. There were even some ticket scalpers spotted outside Yulman Stadium for the first time in over 20 years. Tulane are more than capable of winning out and securing a spot in the Cotton Bowl. However, that will have to start this weekend on Senior Day against an SMU squad that is peaking towards the end of the season.
The Mustangs aren’t coming into this game in a spoiler role though. SMU have plenty to play for considering they could still make the AAC Championship Game if they win out and Cincinnati or UCF stumble. Furthermore, history is on the side of the Mustangs who have beaten Tulane every year since both teams joined the AAC.
Things were not looking great for first year head coach Rhett Lashlee when his team was 3-4 after coming into the season with lofty expectations. However, The Mustangs are now on a three game winning streak after beating USF 41-23 this past weekend. In the past three games, SMU are averaging 54 points per game.
SMU could easily be in Tulane’s position this season if a few things went their way. The Mustangs had one score losses to Maryland, TCU, and Cincinnati. Next year, SMU will hope that they can pull off a run similar to the Green Wave. However, here and now, the Mustangs will be focused on trying to continue their run of form against one of the FBS’ best scoring defenses.
SMU’s offense is lead by their stellar quarterback Tanner Mordecai and their All-American receiver Rashee Rice. Mordecai rewrote the record book two weeks ago with a 9 Passing TD performance against Houston. His encore performance was a casual 300 yard, 2 TD performance against the Bulls. Meanwhile, Rice has nearly 400 yards in his past three games with 5 TDs to boot.
However, SMU had Rice and Mordecai all season. What is responsible for the Mustangs taking their offense to the next level? Running back tandem Camar Wheaton and Tyler Lavine started running the ball with authority. Wheaton is a redshirt freshmen in his first season with SMU after transfering in from Alabama. The former consensus five star recruit ran for a 112 yards and two TDs which were both career highs.
Meanwhile, Lavine is a senior who is in the midst of his best three game stretch of his career with 330 yards and 5 TDs during SMU’s win streak. If SMU are going to upset Tulane on the road, they need to have a balanced attack. Teams figured out how to stop the Mordecai-Rice connection with double coverage when the Mustangs couldn’t threaten to run. Now, Lashlee has unleashed the offenses full potential en route to a possible AAC Conference Championship Game appearance that was unthinkable three weeks ago.
Tulane should feel confident about a bounce back win against SMU though. Tulane played their worst game against a stacked UCF squad. QB Michael Pratt missed wide open receivers. When those same receivers got the ball thrown directly to them, they dropped it. Then, Tulane had several bad bounces on special teams. Despite this, the game still came down to an onside kick with two minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The key to this game for the Green Wave is their defense’s performance against the Mustang’s offense. Tulane are on a bit of a slide having given up more than 28 points in three out of their past four games including a season high 38 to UCF. Despite this, there is still reasons to be confident Tulane will turn it around this week. Many of the points surrendered in that stretch outside of the UCF game came when Tulane had multi-score leads and starters were being rotated out and the stakes were not particularly high. That situation is unlikely to happen against SMU and Willie Fritz is unlikely to let his players drop their guard again.
The good news is that when the defense wasn’t carrying the Green Wave, the offense was required to step up. In their first four games against FBS competion, Tulane averaged 23 points per game. Then, Pratt and RB Tyjae Spears came alive to elevate the offense. In their last four games against FBS compeition, Tulane are averaging 35 points per game.
Again, that growth can mostly be attributed to Pratt airing out the ball to numerous targets and Spears becoming the feature back for the Green Wave. Pratt will likely surpass last year’s totals in passing yards sometime during the game this upcoming weekend. He has done this while cutting his interceptions in half through 10 games. Meanwhile, Spears has already surpassed his rushing yards and touchdown totals from last season but is look to cross the 1,000 threshold for the first time.
While no game is an apples to apples comparison, Tulane put up 31 on UCF. The Knights are ranked in the top 25 in numerous defensive categories. Meanwhile, Tulane is healthy and ready to welcome a Mustang defense that is ranked in the bottom 25 for numerous categories to a rocking Yulman Stadium crowd.
Tulane is the better overall football team but SMU are currently in scintillating form. This match up is going to be extremely close and could go down to who has the ball last or special teams. Ultimately, the Green Wave are playing at home in front of Senior Day crowd during their best run in over 20 years. In the big picture, this game should mean significantly more to Tulane and I expect them to play like it.
Prediction: Tulane 31 SMU 24