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2023 Week 12 Game Preview: Tulane Green Wave @ Florida Atlantic Owls

Tulane looks to regain its footing and retain its ranking after another scare in Week 11.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Tulane Matthew Dobbins-USA TODAY Sports

Game notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, November 18 at 12:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPN+
  • Location: FAU Stadium — Boca Raton, FL
  • Spread: Tulane (-9)
  • Over/under: 47.5
  • All-time series: Florida Atlantic leads, 1-0
  • Last meeting: Florida Atlantic 34, Tulane 17 — November 2, 2013
  • Current streak: Florida Atlantic, 1 (2013)

Setting the scene

The latest College Football Playoff standings have been released and Tulane still has a clear track to the New Year’s Six. The Green Wave fell one spot to No. 24 in the rankings after escaping last week’s Tulsa game with a narrow 24-22 victory.

Narrow victories have become a recurring theme for the AAC champions, but as long as win column keeps updating on a weekly basis, all of Tulane’s goals will be accomplished. The Green Wave are two wins away from hosting their second-straight AAC Championship Game and will clinch another New Year’s Six appearance by winning that contest.

The opponent this week is a Florida Atlantic team pushed to the brink of missing a bowl game for the third-straight year. The Owls lost back-to-back games as the designated favorite, dropping an offensive barnburner to UAB and subsequently falling in a defensive struggle to East Carolina. A late-season resurgence for FAU, and its postseason hopes hinge on knocking off Tulane and Rice. Defeating the Green Wave would be the program’s first ranked win ever.

Tulane Green Wave outlook

Tulane (9-1, 6-0 AAC) is rolling through conference play, but it’s not in the fashion the Green Wave imagined. The opponent has covered the spread in five of those six wins. Tulane’s largest margin of victory in AAC play this year is by 12 over UAB. It defeated Memphis by 10 for its most impressive win of the season in mid-October and the four games since have all been decided by one score. Tulane edged 3-7 North Texas, 4-6 Rice, 2-8 East Carolina, and 3-7 Tulsa by 7, 2, 3, and 2 points, respectively. But impressively enough, the Green Wave didn’t trail at a single moment after halftime in any of those four contests.

Tulane is often getting off to fast starts but failing to finish strong. It led 21-0 over North Texas, 27-7 over Tulane, and 14-0 over Tulsa before each of those opponents responded with a valiant comeback. But toward the end of these games, the Green Wave rarely aim for style points and prefer to just hoard as much clock as possible. In FBS matchups this year, Tulane is seventh nationally in time of possession at 33 minutes and seven seconds per game. Yes, the Green Wave employ an All-AAC quarterback in Michael Pratt, but the identity of every Willie Fritz team — including last year’s Cotton Bowl champion squad — involves running until the opponent has an answer.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Tulane
Tulane RB Makhi Hughes is the active FBS recordholder for most consecutive 100-yard games with six. He’s posted 100 on every AAC opponent this season.
Matthew Dobbins-USA TODAY Sports

Lately, opponents haven’t come up with a reliable answer to stop Makhi Hughes. The redshirt freshman crossed the 1,000-yard mark last Saturday and is the AAC’s lone millennium rusher heading into Week 12. Hughes has posted 100 yards on all six AAC opponents this year, and he holds the longest 100-yard rushing streak in college football at the moment. Even with heavy utilization, he remains efficient, averaging at least 5.0 yards per carry in five of those six times eclipsing the century mark.

Of course Pratt remains a fixture in the offense, but he has only attempted 30 passes twice this season and is still in search of a 300-yard performance. The Tulsa game was was his roughest of the season from an efficiency perspective, but he’s been on target all year with a 68 percent completion rate and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 16-to-4.

But Pratt’s receiving corps is incredibly banged up at the moment. Leading receiver Lawrence Keys III is expected to miss Saturday’s contest with a foot sprain after exiting last week in the first quarter. Third-leading receiver Jha’Quan Jackson missed the Tulsa game entirely with an injury and his status remains uncertain. That requires Chris Brazzell II — who secured a clutch third down catch to put the dagger in Tulsa — to step up as the No. 1 option with Yulkeith Brown, Dontae Fleming, and Bryce Bohanon in supporting roles. Another significant playmaker should be tight end Alex Bauman, who has set his season-high in receiving yards each of his last two outings.

The offensive line is significantly injured as well. Two starters missed last Saturday’s game and left tackle Cameron Wire suffered a midgame injury, and this unit could remain shorthanded heading into Saturday.

Despite all of the offensive injuries, Tulane’s defense is potent enough to carry the team to victory. Nobody except Ole Miss has crossed 30 points on this 26th ranked scoring defense. Tulane almost wins every line of scrimmage battle, picking up 2.5 sacks and 6.2 tackles for loss per game, in addition to generating pressure that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. The defensive line is loaded with talent, heading by defensive tackle Patrick Jenkins and defensive end Darius Hodges who combine for 10 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in 2023.

NCAA Football: Tulane at Memphis
Tulane DE Darius Hodges is first on the Green Wave with 5.5 sacks.
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

But if the pressure isn’t there, teams air it out quite well on the Green Wave. Tulsa’s passing offense ranks 105th in the country in yards per game but accumulated 355 on Tulane’s secondary. Florida Atlantic runs plenty of designed screens, so the Green Wave must be true to tackling and prevent any Owls from breaking downfield for significant gains. Turnover help would be welcome as well, and cornerback Lance Robinson is the one usually spearheading that effort, securing a team-high four interceptions on the year.

Florida Atlantic Owls outlook

Florida Atlantic (4-6, 3-3 AAC) was hovering in AAC contention for a while after starting 3-1 in conference play, but the last weeks put the nail in the coffin for the league’s first-year member. Florida Atlantic hasn’t produced a winning season since faring 5-4 in the shortened pandemic 2020 campaign, and in order to achieve that goal, running the table is a requisite. This is also unfamiliar territory for first-year head coach Tom Herman, who finished above .500 and qualified for bowl games in all six years running the show at Houston and Texas.

The last two Florida Atlantic losses transpired in polar opposite fashion. The 45-42 loss at UAB was a defensive collapse as the team surrendered 614 yards, notably allowing 499 in the passing game on an efficient 30-of-36 showing. Last Saturday’s home game against East Carolina was a stellar defensive performance, highlighted by 15 tackles for loss. East Carolina scored one touchdown and it was thanks to generous field position stemming from a blocked punt. But the Owls only produced 172 total yards and also got dominated at the line of scrimmage, yielding five sacks and generating 21 rushing yards on 31 attempts.

Going forward on senior day against Tulane, a healthy balance between the offense from the UAB game and the defense from the East Carolina game must be established to upend the AAC’s lone ranked team.

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Illinois
FAU QB Daniel Richardson has fired three touchdowns in three separate starts this season. His first start with FAU was Week 4 vs. Illinois.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

On offense, Florida Atlantic is equipped with a quarterback with big game experience. Daniel Richardson defeated Washington State in the 2021 Sun Bowl during his time as Central Michigan, and he’s posted some decent performances ever since taking over for the injured Casey Thompson. His 31-of-38, 382-yard explosion against South Florida was his highlight of his Owls tenure. Although East Carolina limited him to 151 passing yards on 36 attempts by taking away everything but the underneath routes, Richardson has potential to make a splash in this game — especially after Tulsa’s dormant passing offense had a prolific day against Tulane.

Protecting Richardson will be essential against this dominant Tulane front. The big-arm junior quarterback has taken 14 sacks in the last three losses but zero in the last two wins. Strong pass protection typically has a ripple effect with FAU, so succeeding on this front in the first quarter can go a long way Saturday.

The Owls’ most prevalent skill position player is unquestionably LaJohntay Wester. Wester ranks first in the FBS with 93 receptions and holds status as one of nine 1,000-yard receivers in the nation. The AAC’s leading receiver is often a screen threat from the slot, but his quickness and agility allow to him to explode for the occasional deep route. Two weeks ago, he posted a career-high 219 yards on UAB’s defense and that was his sixth game featuring 10+ receptions in 2023.

The run game features a one-two punch of Larry McCammon III and Kobe Lewis. McCammon, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2022, is good for a steady diet of 12 to 20 carries per game and he’s a bit of a bruiser, consistently shedding tackles and running over opponents. He ranks third on the team in receptions, only trailing Wester and wide receiver Tony Johnson — another piece that should be utilized often against this Tulane pass defense.

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Purdue
FAU wide receivers LaJohntay Wester and Tony Johnson are among the key skill position players for the Owls. Wester is first in the FBS in receptions and first in the AAC in receiving yards.
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Atlantic’s defense has been a mixed bag in AAC play. The Owls held four of their six conference foes under 24 points, and they also limited non-conference opponents Ohio and Illinois below that threshold. But when things get away from Florida Atlantic like they did versus UAB, UTSA, and Clemson, everything unravels.

The passing defense is where FAU struggles most, allowing an efficient 247 yards per game to opposing aerial attacks. The run defense is much more consistent, and the Owls are very solid at the first level — as suggested by their 15 tackles for loss last week. They are tied with Tulane with an output of 2.5 sacks per game. Evan Anderson is the star of this ferocious defensive line. The 6’3”, 356 pound force commands significant attention and he is also tied for the team-lead in sacks, which isn’t too common for interior linemen.


Is this going to be another close call for Tulane?

The formula is setting up in such a way. The Green Wave might roll into this game shorthanded offensively with the wide receiver and offensive line rooms possessing many ailments right now. Tulane is going to have to rely on heavy doses of Makhi Hughes to get things done against a Florida Atlantic front which only allows 3.7 yards per carry to defenders.

Florida Atlantic’s offense mightily struggled against East Carolina, but Daniel Richardson can sling the ball and he’s equipped with a soon-to-be all-conference receiver with explosive play capabilities in an open field. LaJohntay Wester should be in for another double-digit reception game against this Tulane pass defense, and his presence will keep this one close.

But in the end, Tulane usually finds a way with clutch defensive stops and exhausting time of possession through the run game. Florida Atlantic provides another scare, but the Green Wave will enter their regular season finale against UTSA with a spotless AAC record.

Prediction: Tulane 26, Florida Atlantic 21