- Time and date: Saturday, November 11 at 12:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN2
- Location: Yulman Stadium — New Orleans, LA
- Spread: Tulane (-23.5)
- Over/under: 53.5
- All-time series: Tulsa leads, 13-6
- Last meeting: Tulane 27, Tulsa 13 — November 5, 2022
- Current streak: Tulane, 1 (2022)
Setting the scene
The College Football Playoff standings were unveiled on Tuesday and it was refreshing news for the Green Wave faithful in the Big Easy. Tulane is ranked No. 23 in that poll. After Air Force’s stunning 23-3 loss to Army in Week 10, the Green Wave basically received assurance that they control their own destiny to a second-straight New Year’s Six appearance.
Tulane must clear its remaining schedule of Tulsa, Florida Atlantic, and UTSA to qualify, in addition to winning the AAC Championship Game the first week of December. This week’s challenger is a Tulsa team that has fallen on hard times since the launch of October, dropping four-straight AAC games to move to the brink of bowl ineligibility.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane outlook
Tulsa (3-6, 1-4 AAC) is on a freewill after a solid 3-2 start. The Golden Hurricane are in the midst of a 4-game skid, and each week seems to hit a new low. The streak launched with a close loss in a monsoon to Florida Atlantic. After a bye week, it escalated with a 32-point home loss to Rice. Then Tulsa was eviscerated 69-10 by SMU in a game that was 52-3 at halftime. And last week, the Golden Hurricane squandered a 17-0 lead and fell in overtime to a struggling Charlotte team.
In order to attain bowl eligibility in year one of the Kevin Wilson era, Tulsa must win out. But the schedule provides no favors as the Golden Hurricane are pitted against the AAC’s lone ranked team this Saturday on the road.
Why is Tulsa struggling? Offensively, Golden Hurricane haven’t been able to establish the passing game, thus keeping them more one dimensional than desired. Tulsa is 18th-to-last in the FBS in passing yards per game and there hasn’t been consistent efficiency. The Golden Hurricane complete just 55.9 percent of passes and have thrown more interceptions than anybody in the country at 16.
Tulsa is still figuring out its quarterback situation heading into Week 11. The Golden Hurricane have shuffled between Braylon Braxton and Cardell Williams all year in attempt to find a constant starter. Both quarterbacks present an impressive degree of mobility, and Williams has seen more success as a passer with team-highs in virtually every aerial statistic. But in need of an offensive spark, Tulsa tested true freshman walk-on Kirk Francis. He led a touchdown drive and the game-tying field goal series to send the game into overtime, but threw a costly interception in the extra period.
There’s no clear-cut starter in Tulsa’s quarterback room at the moment, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see two or three players rotate into the game at the position Saturday.
Where Tulsa thrives offensively is in the run game. Running is typically the strength of Wilson-coached teams and this Golden Hurricane squad possesses that skillset, ranked 27th in rushing in the FBS. Only the service academies, Liberty, and Jacksonville State ground the ball more times per game than Tulsa. Anthony Watkins leads the charge at running back and the fifth-year senior is fresh off a career-high 146 yards heading into Week 11. Jordan Ford, Bill Jackson, Braxton, and Williams provide ample support in the run game as well, but establishing that might be a challenge against a talent Tulane front.
Tulsa’s defense appeared on track for a bounce back week against Charlotte after shutting the 49ers out for the first 25 minutes of clock, but the same issues that plagued the unit in the Rice and SMU games came back to bite. Tulsa is 126th in scoring defense, 126th in total defense, and 130th in pass defense — and those undesirable rankings must be addressed before the season concludes.
Passing defense is certainly the most glaring struggle at the moment, especially after SMU posted 446 yards on 29 attempts — averaging 15.4 yards per pop on the Tulsa defense. Even Charlotte’s passing offense which generates 178 yards per game racked up a season-high 277 a week ago on Tulsa. Still, there is talent in the secondary capable of making plays. Free safety Kendarin Ray boasts a team-high 89 tackles — more than double anyone else on the roster, while strong safety Jaise Oliver has five pass breakups and three picks to his name.
The run defense has been more stout with Oklahoma State transfer Ben Kopenski leading the way from the edge. Kopenski is also the main pass rusher Tulane must bottle up, as he presents 5.5 of Tulsa’s 12 sacks on the year.
Tulane Green Wave outlook
Tulane (8-1, 5-0 AAC) is the standard of the AAC, until proven otherwise. The Green Wave are No. 23 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings after winning their seventh-straight game. Tulane’s only loss came to No. 9 Ole Miss in a game that was tied after three quarters while the Green Wave were without star quarterback Michael Pratt.
Even though the wins keep coming, more often than not lately, they’ve been too close for comfort. Ever since overcoming an 11-point third quarter deficit in early October to upend Memphis 31-21 for a statement road win, Tulane hasn’t won a single game by more than one score. The Green Wave escaped North Texas 35-28 with a late go-ahead touchdown, scraped by Rice 30-28, and edged 1-8 East Carolina 13-10 on the road last Saturday. All three of those teams are sub-.500, and Tulsa fits into that category as well.
Tulane essentially controls its own destiny for a New Year’s Six spot regardless of the margin of its victories, but the Green Wave desire to play more complete games as the all-important season finale vs. UTSA approaches.
As suggested by 13-10 score at East Carolina, the strongest aspect of Tulane is its defense. The Green Wave are fifth nationally in stopping the run at 77.9 yards surrendered per game. Opposing ball carriers only average 2.8 yards on the relentless Tulane front, and this advantage is monumental against a run-heavy team like Tulsa.
East Carolina never crossed the Tulane 40-yard line after its first two possessions last week, as it was held to 190 yards total and just 70 stemming from the ground. Four different defensive linemen exhibit at least 5.0 tackles for loss on the season — defensive ends Darius Hodge and Devean Deal as well as defensive tackles Patrick Jenkins and Kameron Hamilton. It’s one of the larger and more athletic defensive lines in the conference and those attributes show up in the box score. Tulane checks into the upper quartile of the FBS with 2.6 sacks per game led by Hodges and Jenkins, who combine for 9.0 on the season.
Inside linebacker Jesus Machado is also among the key playmakers on the run-stopping unit, scoring a team-high 71 tackles in a breakout season. The defense is a bit more shaky against the passing game, allowing an efficient 239 yards per game (91st in FBS), but there is no shortage of playmakers in this secondary. One cornerback Jarius Monroe attained First Team All-AAC status in 2022 while the other corner Lance Robinson has four interceptions on the year as the team’s No. 1 ballhawk.
The offense surprisingly hasn’t registered 40 points on anybody this season, but some of that has to do with strategy. With a star quarterback like Pratt, Tulane is a capable passing team, but the MO of Willie Fritz’s offense involves establishing the run and controlling clock. Tulane is a top 10 team in terms of time of possession, and the team hogged over 38 minutes against East Carolina, over 36 minutes against Rice, and scored the winning touchdown on a 13-play drive consuming 6:34 to knock off North Texas.
Makhi Hughes is rapidly establishing a name for himself as the conference’s leading rusher. The redshirt freshman is 123 yards away from cementing himself as a 1,000-yard specialist, and he enters the week riding a 5-game streak of surpassing the century mark. Last Saturday was his first time since Week 2 averaging under 5.0 per carry, but Hughes still picked up a respectable 4.2 in a 105-yard performance to keep the clock rolling and chains moving in the ECU win.
Pratt is the clear leader of the team with an impressive résumé in his four years as a starter. But Tulane hasn’t relied heavily on him this season, only requiring the All-AAC quarterback to throw more than 25 times twice — 30 attempts at Rice, 31 attempts at Memphis. But Pratt’s efficiency has been remarkable, and he is completing passes at a career-high rate of 70.3 percent. His 9.5 average is also a career-best and he exhibits a stellar touchdown-to-interception ratio of 15-to-3.
The offensive line is keeping the quarterback safer than ever and he’s had substantial time for routes to develop when dropping back. His top three receivers — Lawrence Keys III, Chris Brazzell II, and Jha’Quan Jackson — all average at least 16 yards per reception and present downfield explosive threats to any defense.
Tulsa’s greatest strength happens to be countered by Tulane’s strongest asset. The run game is the one element the Golden Hurricane can utilize to gain an advantage over the AAC’s top teams, but Tulane is as accomplished as anybody in the nation at countering the run. Patrick Jenkins is a force at defensive tackle who must be occupied by several linemen on some plays and the rest of the Tulane front seven benefits from his commanding presence. If Tulsa can’t establish much on the ground, this could be a turnover laden game for the visitors considering their lack of success through the air this year.
Even though Tulsa’s pass defense has been highly exploitable, expect a heavy dose of Makhi Hughes on the ground and for Fritz’s team to control clock. Tulane may not drop 40, but it should be a comfortable home win which helps that No. 23 ranking in the CFP standings rise a few spots come next Tuesday.
Prediction: Tulane 38, Tulsa 13