Last year in bowl season, Tulane was on top of the world. The Green Wave stormed back from a 15-point deficit in the final five minutes at the grand stage of the Cotton Bowl to stun USC, 46-45, and claim a season-ending ranking of No. 9.
Similar vibes were unable to be captured by the 2023 Green Wave.
Prior to the Military Bowl against Virginia Tech, the program lost head coach Willie Fritz to Houston. Then an entire domino effect ensued. Several assistants followed Fritz to Big 12 country, key contributors entered the transfer portal, and starting quarterback Michael Pratt opted out of the remainder of the season.
If that wasn’t enough of a downpour for the Green Wave, combine it with the intense precipitation observed at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, and the result was a 41-20 defeat to Virginia Tech in the Military Bowl. Tulane finished its 2023 campaign 11-3, unlikely to secure a second consecutive season in the final AP Top 25, as Virginia Tech became the first team to register 40 points on the Green Wave in 2023.
The teams combined for eight fumbles in a game made sloppier by the weather conditions. Both squads were plagued and benefited by the inability to hold onto the pigskin in the downpour. Tulane set the tone in the early going when Virginia Tech quarterback Kyron Drones fumbled on the Hokies’ opening drive, and outside linebacker Tyler Grubbs shoved Drones out of the way and scooped the ball for a 21-yard touchdown return.
Tulane scored its only other touchdown courtesy of a Virginia Tech fumble when the Hokies lost the ball at their own 17-yard line in the early third quarter. But fumbles giveth, fumbles taketh. Virginia Tech earned its first touchdown on the day due to the Green Wave muffing a punt deep in their own territory. Tulane coughed up the ball three times in total, but perhaps the most critical was at the 1-yard line, when Kai Horton lost the ball several feet from the goal line and Virginia Tech defensive end Antwaun Powell-Ryland pounced on it.
Tulane entered the Military Bowl with the nation’s 10th-best run defense, and the Green Wave were almost fully equipped in their talented front seven. Yet, Virginia Tech dominated through means of the run game, led by Drones in an MVP effort. The sophomore constantly faked handoffs out of shotgun and bolted up the middle for significant gains, setting his career high in rushing yards with 176. Running back Bhayshul Tuten added 136 yards and two touchdowns and as a team, the Hokies set a program record for rushing yards in a bowl game with 362, dominating on the ground in the monsoon conditions.
Drones scored one touchdown as a rusher as well, but it didn’t come without controversy. Almost at the exact same time Drones extended the ball past the goal line, it was jarred loose by Tulane, which recovered in the end zone. However, after further review, the ruling on the field stood which provided Virginia Tech a 10-7 lead which would never be relinquished.
Drones also delivered a pair of touchdown strikes to his tight ends. In the final 10 seconds of the half, he found a wide open Harrison Saint Germain in the end zone for a 1-yard score to break a 10-10 tie. Then in the early fourth quarter, Drones opened the lead to multiple scores when connecting with Benji Gosnell for his first touchdown of the season. While Tulane posted similar numbers in the passing game under Horton, the Green Wave couldn’t match the Hokies’ prowess on the ground and were out-gained as a whole, 453-252.
Tulane finishes the 2023 campaign with an 11-3 record after dropping consecutive games for the first time since 2021. Despite appearing on track for a New Year’s Six bowl heading into conference championship weekend, Tulane likely drops out of the AP Poll to conclude its second winningest season of the 21st century. Although the team operated under interim head coach Slade Nagle in the Military Bowl, the program moves forward in 2023 with former Troy head coach Jon Sumrall at the helm.
Virginia Tech winds up with a 7-6 record, finishing above .500 for the first time since 2019. Head coach Brent Key led the Hokies to their first bowl win since 2016 in his second year leading the maroon and orange, snapping the program’s four-game bowl losing streak. Virginia Tech concludes the season with a win over No. 23 Tulane, which is the team’s first ranked victory since the 2021 opener.