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2023 Week 3 Game Preview: Tulane Green Wave @ Southern Miss Golden Eagles

With or without Michael Pratt, Tulane aims to exact revenge on one of its rare losses from a spectacular 2022 campaign.

Ole Miss v Tulane Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Game notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, September 16 at 4:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPNU
  • Location: M.M. Roberts Stadium — Hattiesburg, MS
  • Spread: Tulane (-13)
  • Over/under: 50
  • All-time series: Southern Miss leads, 24-9
  • Last meeting: Southern Miss 27, Tulane 24 — September 24, 2022
  • Current streak: Southern Miss, 1 (2022)

Setting the scene

It’s vengeance week for Tulane. The Green Wave not only hope to make amends for their home loss last week to Ole Miss, but revenge is on the mind of the reigning AAC champs. Tulane’s 2022 season was nearly perfect, completing the greatest turnaround in college football history from 2-10 to 12-2. But two blemishes were in that record — one was UCF, which Tulane avenged three weeks later in the AAC Championship Game. The other was Southern Miss, which stormed into Yulman Stadium and stunned the Golden Eagles, 27-24, last September. A costly pick-six and fourth down woes factored into the result, and Tulane hopes to undo the result in Hattiesburg this time.

For Southern Miss, it’s about keeping the upper hand in this non-conference rivalry. The Golden Eagles have a commanding lead in the all-time series, and head coach Will Hall hopes to notch a 2-0 record over his former team, where he served as offensive coordinator in 2019 and 2020.

Tulane Green Wave outlook

The pressing question for Tulane this week is undoubtedly: Will Michael Pratt return? The star quarterback enjoyed a near-perfect debut against South Alabama, completing 14-of-15 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns. But one problem persisted, as Pratt injured his left knee on a rushing attempt in the waning moments of that 37-17 victory. He was labeled a game-time decision for Saturday but remained sidelined — not even warming up with the quarterbacks.

As far as Pratt’s availability this week, head coach Willie Fritz told Kendall Duncan of WDSU: “We’re hoping he’s going to be able to play this weekend. He’s doing more and more, looking better and better. Time’s a good thing... We've got to see if he can do the things we need him to do and protect himself. If he can, we’ll play him. If he can’t, we won’t.”

In the media availability clip Duncan posted above, Fritz confirmed he will be the final decision-maker and that “it would have taken five seconds to talk (Pratt) into playing last week,” given the quarterback’s competitive nature.

South Alabama v Tulane
Tulane QB Michael Pratt missed the Ole Miss game after a 14-of-15, 294-yard, 4-touchdown domination in Week 1.
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

If Pratt is unable to go, Kai Horton is slated for his third career start. Horton connected on 15-of-37 passes for 231 yards last week — taking plenty of deep shots against the Ole Miss defense. Pressure certainly factored into that performance as Horton was under duress copious amounts of times and taken down for a sack on four occasions. The sophomore has shown the ability to lead this offense before, spearheading a comeback at Houston last September to keep Tulane’s New Year’s Six hopes in tact.

Tulane’s run game hasn’t been as dominant since the departure of Tyjae Spears, but it’s something the team will have to further lean into if Pratt remains absent. Makhi Hughes has claimed the lead tailback role, handling 23 carries for 92 yards in last week’s defeat. Shaadie Clayton-Johnson appears to be the secondary back for now, and the duo will look to go on a rampage against a Southern Miss run defense surrendering an FBS-high 7.4 yards per carry. Tulane’s line exhibits several First Team All-AAC pieces including Sincere Haynesworth and Prince Pines, so they’ll look to create significant gaps against of the nation’s most porous run-stopping units.

What’s been discovered about Tulane’s offense thus far is it’s a super explosive unit. Wide receiver Jha’Quan Jackson is averaging 27 yards per reception on the season and the speedster already has three touchdowns exceeding 40 yards. The other explosive wideout is Lawrence Keys III, who is racking up 21.1 yards per catch with 45+ yard receptions in both outings this season. Tulane tries to get these two on an island as much as possible and rely on their speed to produce home run plays.

Ole Miss v Tulane
Jha’Quan Jackson scored an 87-yard touchdown in the Cotton Bowl last January, and he hasn’t slowed down since. The explosive receiver has three 40+ yard touchdowns in two games.
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Defensively, Tulane played a much better game against Ole Miss than the 37 on the scoreboard suggested. The interior defensive line play was stellar with Patrick Jenkins and Eric Hicks Jr. causing all sorts of havoc. Due to the defensive tackle dominance, Tulane registered four sacks and eight tackles for loss, limiting the Rebels to 17 points before a 20-point fourth quarter outburst.

The key to limiting Southern Miss’ offense involves suffocating its run game. However, Tulane is bereft of one of its elite run defenders in linebacker Corey Platt Jr., who tore his Achilles in the opener. Other names such as Jesus Machado and Louisiana Tech transfer Tyler Grubbs must step up in that facet in order to prevent huge numbers from the Golden Eagles’ running back duo of Frank Gore Jr. and Rodrigues Clark.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles outlook

Southern Miss is 1-1 with a dominant victory over an FCS opponent and lopsided defeat at the hands of currently-No. 3 Florida State. Tulane presents some middle ground for a Golden Eagles team still looking for an identity two weeks into the season, and given last year’s result, Will Hall’s team is more than confident it can upend the Green Wave at The Rock.

The Golden Eagles’ offense typically makes its mark in the run game, led by a pair of formidable backs. Frank Gore Jr. is the veteran, and he’s renowned as one of the toughest running backs in the sport right now, especially after setting a bowl record 329 rushing yards in the LendingTree Bowl against Rice last December. Gore is off to a slow start this season with 60 yards in two games, but the fourth-year junior had some lulls in non-conference play last year — including the Tulane game — before several explosive performances to conclude the season.

NCAA Football: LendingTree Bowl-Rice vs Southern Mississippi
Frank Gore Jr. is the proud record holder of most rushing yards in a bowl game. He totaled 329 rushing yards on 21 carries in a LendingTree Bowl victory over Rice last December.
Robert McDuffie-USA TODAY Sports

Gore got more assistance in the backfield this offseason with the arrival of Rodrigues Clark from the transfer portal. The former Memphis back is Southern Miss’ rushing leader with 140 yards on the season, and he was one of the lone bright spots in a 66-13 beatdown to Florida State with 86 yards and a touchdown on a 5.7 average.

What Southern Miss severely lacked in previous seasons under Hall was a reliable passing attack and a clear-cut No. 1 quarterback. The Golden Eagles hope they found one in Billy Wiles, a former Clemson walk-on. Wiles saw mixed results against varying opponents in his first two career starts, lighting up Alcorn State for an efficient 267 yards and three touchdowns, but struggling with an 11-of-34 showing pitted up against Florida State.

The good news for Wiles is Tulane’s defense could raise that completion percentage, as the Green Wave allow a 70.7 percent completion rate this year. The short throw game should be relatively open, so if he can feed receivers like Jakarius Caston in the screen game, Southern Miss’ offense could become dangerous if the blocking is right and Tulane is missing tackles.

On defense, Southern Miss’ struggles in containing the run game are well-documented. Even against FCS opponent Alcorn State, the Golden Eagles yielded 6.3 yards per carry and were assertively beat at the line of scrimmage. The same thing happened to a worse degree in Tallahassee when Florida State posted 306 rushing yards and four touchdowns with seven different ball carriers exceeding 6.0 yards per rush.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Alcorn State at Southern Miss
Southern Miss FS Jay Stanley has caused havoc all over the field in two games, collecting two interceptions, three pass breakups, and a forced fumble.
Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The pass rush notched its first two sacks of the season, which was a positive sign after whiffing against Alcorn State. Trench warfare was an area of success against Tulane last season as the Golden Eagles registered four sacks on Michael Pratt, while the Green Wave tallied zero, so replicating a similar stat-line is the key to pulling off the upset.

Outside linebackers Jalil Clemons and Swayze Bozeman are names to watch in the Southern Miss front seven, and they’ll be sent on occasional blitzes to rattle Tulane’s quarterback, whether it be the veteran Michael Pratt or the backup Kai Horton. Another force on the Golden Eagles’ defense is Jay Stanley. The All-Sun Belt safety will be the last line of defense for Tulane’s explosive playmaking, and there aren’t many safeties more equipped to handle this role. Stanley intercepted a Sun Belt-high five passes in 2022 and he’s off to an excellent start in 2023 with a pair of picks through two games.


Pratt or no Pratt, that is the question. Who knows if Tulane defends its home turf last Saturday in New Orleans if Michael Pratt is under center? The quarterback has delivered in many clutch situations before, rushing for key first downs to beat Big 12 champion Kansas State and extending do-or-die drives with fourth down conversions to knock off USC.

Pratt is a playmaker in every sense of the word, and Tulane will require his services going forward. But even if No. 7 isn’t good to go, the Green Wave showed plenty of promise in three quarters last Saturday which demonstrates they’re capable of beating a wide range of opponents. Tulane has the edge on both sides of the line this game which could go a long way. Pressuring Southern Miss quarterback Billy Wiles into another inefficient performance is certainly possible given the chaos Patrick Jenkins, Darius Hodge, and Co. cause in the backfield.

The key for Tulane is limiting turnovers, and a pick-six was the death blow for the Green Wave last year. This year is different, however, and Willie Fritz’s team emerges on the road in a defensive-oriented duel.

Prediction: Tulane 27, Southern Miss 20