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Tulane inches closer to AAC title game with decisive 24-8 win over FAU

The Green Wave take full control of the Owls, obtain their largest margin of victory in AAC play.

NCAA Football: Tulane at Florida Atlantic Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The Tulane Green Wave are one step closer to their second-consecutive AAC Championship Game appearance.

Tulane (10-1, 7-0 AAC) notched its ninth consecutive victory in Saturday’s early slate, edging Florida Atlantic (4-7, 3-4 AAC) in Boca Raton, 24-8. Willie Fritz’s team took care of business on the road once again, extending its streak to 10-straight wins away from home. Tulane hasn’t squandered a single road game since the finale of the 2021 season.

The 16-point victory was refreshing for Tulane, as it marked the team’s largest margin of victory in AAC play. In each of the four previous weeks, the Green Wave edged sub-.500 competition by one score, but on Saturday, they posted their most complete performance against conference competition.

Tulane established a 24-0 advantage after three quarters before Florida Atlantic obtained its lone points with 8:58 remaining in the contest. The Green Wave received significant contributions from quarterback Michael Pratt, who won his 13th consecutive start dating back to last November. Pratt was the model of efficiency, completion 21-of-28 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns. The reigning AAC champion quarterback operated in a shorthanded offense, down several linemen and two of its top three receivers.

But the fourth-year starter’s captaincy provided assurance to a Tulane offense in need of a spark. He completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Chris Carter in the first quarter for Carter’s first touchdown of the season. Then he connected with Chris Brazzell II for another 9-yard strike in the second quarter to extend the lead to 14-0.

Brazzell was sensational in the absence of usual starters Lawrence Keys III and Jha’Quan Jackson. The 6’5” redshirt freshman set a new career-high with seven receptions and tied his season-best with 103 yards Saturday. He was the only Green Wave receiver to log more than three receptions and took on the No. 1 role extraordinarily well. The tight ends provided ample assistance to the passing attack as Carter caught an additional touchdown from Pratt in the third quarter while Alex Bauman ranked second on the unit with three catches.

While Tulane’s passing game inflicted damage on the Owls when the offense was on the field, the defensive line did the same when the field was flipped. The Green Wave produced five sacks in the victory and the charge was spearheaded by the men up front. Defensive end Darius Hodges led the bunch with two sacks, but Keith Cooper Jr. and Kameron Hamilton also made their way to the quarterback, as did inside linebacker Tyler Grubbs. The defensive line played a major role in limiting Florida Atlantic’s offense to 32 rushing yards on 30 attempts, and the Owls never broke off for a run longer than 11 yards.

Running the ball is usually the identity for Fritz’s offense in New Orleans, but that element of the game didn’t work to its usual extent against a formidable Florida Atlantic front. Running back Makhi Hughes attained 72 yards on 21 carries, but he didn’t sustain his FBS-best streak of six consecutive games over 100 yards. The Green Wave averaged 2.6 yards per carry collectively, but they used the run game to convert two of their three critical fourth down conversions — which all transpired on scoring drives.

Florida Atlantic is officially eliminated from bowl contention with its seventh loss of the season. The Owls haven’t fielded a winning record since the shortened 2020 pandemic season, and first-year head coach Tom Herman finished below .500 for the first time ever in seven years of coaching. Florida Atlantic sees its final action of 2023 next Saturday against another Owl, traveling to Houston to battle Rice.

Tulane dropped one spot from No. 23 to No. 24 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, and the Green Wave will wait until Tuesday night to find out where they are situated. With a win over UTSA next week, Tulane can punch its ticket for a second-consecutive AAC Championship Game appearance and likely claim host duties for the event. Both teams enter the matchup with spotless 7-0 AAC records, and there will be plenty of hype surrounding the nationally-televised affair Black Friday, as New Year’s Six stakes remain on the line every time Tulane takes the field.