- Time and date: Saturday, October 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN2
- Location: Yulman Stadium — New Orleans, LA
- Spread: Tulane (-20)
- Over/under: 63
- All-time series: Tulane leads, 1-0
- Last meeting: Tulane 24, North Texas 21 — October 5, 2013
- Current streak: Tulane, 1 (2013)
Setting the scene
It’s not easy being green? Depends who you ask.
Saturday’s matchup between the Green Wave and Mean Green features one team in the rankings and another fighting for bowl eligibility in a new conference.
Tulane and North Texas meet for the second time in history Saturday afternoon in the Big Easy, fresh off statement wins from Week 7. For the Green Wave, the statement was that they still rule the conference. They shed a 21-10 third quarter deficit to a potent Memphis team and scored three unanswered touchdowns to claim their ninth win in 10 tries, dating back to 2022. For the Mean Green, the statement was that they can throttle AAC competition. North Texas stumbled to a slow start this year with a non-conference loss to FIU, but the team revamped its defense and annihilated Temple 45-14 last Saturday in Denton, TX.
North Texas Mean Green outlook
North Texas’ 31-point thrashing of Temple was undoubtedly a confidence booster the program needed. The first five games of the Eric Morris era featured some struggles, especially on the defensive end, but the Mean Green are back to .500 after their first truly dominant win of the season.
North Texas is about to find out what it’s truly made of, however. The Mean Green enter a “stretch of death” featuring the AAC’s top four teams in four consecutive weeks. Tulane is the first leg of that stretch before matchups against Memphis, UTSA, and SMU loom.
But the Mean Green should be confident in their offense heading into this stretch. ULM transfer quarterback Chandler Rogers is one of the most efficient in the nation, and he’s displaying this efficiency on high volume. Rogers’ last five games (which include four starts) feature 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He’s averaging roughly 37 attempts in those four starts and hasn’t thrown the ball to a single defender in that span — with three 300-yard performances sprinkled in.
Rogers is a decent scrambler too, but his rushing numbers aren’t necessarily showing it. North Texas has seen brutal offensive line play since AAC action commenced, allowing 12 combined sacks in the past two weeks. That’s not an ideal recipe for facing a Tulane front which is among the best in the nation at creating pressure.
While Rogers’ passing numbers are certainly impressive, the calling card of North Texas’ offense is its ability to run the football. The Mean Green showcase one of the deepest running back rooms in the AAC with Ayo Adeyi, Oscar Adaway Isaiah Johnson carrying the nation’s 22nd ranked run game. Adeyi presents the most speed of the trio, and the 5’7” tailback is racking up 7.5 yards per carry with three 100-yard showings this year. Adeyi’s consistency in picking up significant yardage is one crucial reason why North Texas has won three of its last four.
The other skill position threat to watch is Ja’Mori Maclin, who is the quintessential home run threat in the conference. Maclin ranks second in the AAC with 587 receiving yards and first with eight touchdowns. Of all receivers with 20 catches this year, he reigns supreme in average with 23.5 yards per reception. The speedster’s go routes and deep posts have the ability to change the score in an instant, and Tulane’s secondary must be prepared.
North Texas exhibits so much firepower offensively, but defense is the reason the Mean Green haven’t funneled that firepower into a winning record. This team is dead last in containing the run, allowing 257 yards per game — a 33-yard cushion from UMass’ second-worst run defense. The passing defense led by reigning All-CUSA cornerback Ridge Texada is the much stronger part of the unit, but teams don’t feel the need to drop back often when registering 5.7 yards per rush. Given Tulane’s recent success on the ground, veteran defenders like Mazin Richards and Kevin Wood must be prepared for takedowns at the first slight of contact in order to prevent another opponent clinic on the ground.
Tulane Green Wave outlook
Tulane is back in the national spotlight. Memphis’ recent home record suggests that city is not an easy place to play, but the Green Wave overcame an 11-point deficit to claim a statement victory over the Tigers. In recognition of that resilient win, Tulane climbed right back into the rankings with a No. 23 beside its name.
The Green Wave’s only loss this year was a 37-20 non-conference slip-up against Ole Miss, and star quarterback Michael Pratt sat the game with a knee injury. Pratt has since returned, and he appears even more formidable than the 2022 iteration that won an AAC Championship Game and Cotton Bowl. The fourth-year starter exhibits a career-high 70.7 completion percentage with a stellar touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9-to-1. And even after the knee injury, he’s making things happen with his mobility, attaining 121 rushing yards in his four starts and avoiding sacks regularly.
Pratt hasn’t delivered a 300-yard performance this year, and frankly, he hasn’t needed to. Tulane spent the first few weeks testing a Tyjae Spears replacement at running back, and while Spears’ monstrous numbers aren’t easy to replicate, the Green Wave are thriving on the ground with Makhi Hughes as the No. 1 option. Hughes posted 123 yards and two touchdowns on UAB and followed it up with a career-high 130 and a score at Memphis. The running back is getting fed more than 20 times per game now, limiting Pratt’s need to test his arm 30+ times in a game.
But when Tulane needs explosive playmaking in the passing game, the Green Wave make it happen. Wide receiver Jha’Quan Jackson has four touchdowns of 35 yards or greater this year, and Lawrence Keys III has three scores exceeding 30 yards. Pratt likes taking shots to both receivers down the sideline or in deep solo coverage, and that formula has worked tremendously for the Green Wave offense. Even Chris Brazzell II got in on the explosive playmaking last week with three different catches eclipsing 30 yards.
Where Tulane possesses its most significant advantages over the rest of the AAC is on the line — both offensive and defensive. Sincere Haynesworth and Prince Pines pave the pathway for Hughes and protect Pratt, and not many interior linemen win those matchups in the trenches. On the other side of the line, Patrick Jenkins is on an All-AAC pace from the defensive tackle position. Jenkins lead Tulane in tackles for loss with 7.0 and he also boasts an impressive 4.5 sacks through six games for an interior lineman. After a two-sack performance at Memphis, defensive end Darius Hodges leads with team with 5.5 on the season, and he remains a dangerous presence on the edge.
With dominant defensive line play, Tulane ranks seventh in run defense and eighth in sacks nationally. But not all aspects of the Green Wave defense are in pristine shape. Improvement needs to come to fruition in the secondary where Tulane allows a 66 percent completion rate and features the FBS’s 102nd ranked pass game. The Green Wave oftentimes substitute stops with takeaways on the back end. Cornerback Lance Robinson leads the AAC with four interceptions on the year and Tulane has 10 as a team. Pitted against a rather mistake-free quarterback in Chandler Rogers, one side has to give Saturday evening in New Orleans.
North Texas’ passing offense might make this one closer than the spread suggests — just like UAB’s high-powered aerial attack did several weeks ago. But the Mean Green offense will lose one of their two dimensions, to an extent, as Tulane’s stout run defense presents a challenge the Mean Green haven’t seen this year.
Patrick Jenkins and Co. should generate plenty of stops around the line of scrimmage, forcing North Texas into the air on a majority of plays. The Mean Green should have some success with this facet. Underneath routes and mesh concepts aren’t always North Texas’ bread and butter, but substituting the run with those plays might be the call against Tulane.
While North Texas should get its fair share of points, so will Tulane. The Green Wave are very multidimensional, and Makhi Hughes should be in for another massive day against the nation’s worst run defense. When Tulane needs to take the occasional shot off an RPO, it should work more often than not as the Mean Green are probably not going to play a drop-eight defense in New Orleans.
The result of it all — Tulane’s ninth consecutive victory with Pratt as the starter and the right to bowl eligibility.
Prediction: Tulane 38, North Texas 27