Tulane football has won SEC championships, seen undefeated seasons, and checked into the top 10 of the polls to end the season. But one thing the Green Wave program had never done was open a season with a number next to its name in the AP Poll.
Coming off a storybook 2022 complete with a Cotton Bowl victory, an AAC title, and a season-ending No. 9 ranking, the expectations were loftier than ever as Tulane checked into 2023 with a No. 24 in the preseason AP Top 25.
That status was more than justified Saturday night in New Orleans. Pitted against a South Alabama squad returning major production from a 10-win season in 2022, Tulane left no doubt. The Green Wave utilized explosive offensive playmaking en route to a 37-17 victory to start the new season on the right footing.
Quarterback Michael Pratt returned for his fourth season as the starter. In his first action since conducting a game-winning drive in the Cotton Bowl, the veteran signal caller didn’t miss a beat. Pratt completed 14-of-15 passes, delivering four touchdowns on 296 yards in the decisive victory.
Explosive playmaking was abundant under the lights in the Big Easy. Pratt was the facilitator of three different 45+ yard touchdown strikes. He launched a deep ball toward Jha’Quan Jackson in the second quarter for a 47-yard touchdown — one play after connecting with Dontae Fleming for a 39-yard pickup. One possession later, Pratt air mailed one to Lawrence Keys III, who juked his way past several Jaguars for another 47-yard score.
Then in the third quarter, when South Alabama closed the deficit to 24-17, Tulane unleashed the trickery to regain control. The Green Wave took the field in the wildcat formation with Pratt lined up at receiver. After a reverse, the ball landed in the trusty quarterback’s hands and he slung the rock 48 yards to Jackson on the doorstep of the goal line. Jackson scored his second touchdown of the night to complete a 3-reception, 106-yard outing. Keys also lit up the stat sheet, producing 96 yards on four catches in his 2023 debut.
But Tulane’s mark on the game extended beyond Pratt’s heroics through the air. Just 30 seconds into the season, defensive tackle Patrick Jenkins chased down South Alabama running back La’Damian Webb and sent the ball rolling into the waiting hands of Lance Robinson. Pratt immediately went for the longshot on his first snap of the season, and he found Chris Brazzell II 33 yards down the sideline for his second career reception. Two plays later, Brazzell found the end zone for the first time since high school to hand Tulane a 7-0 lead that would never be relinquished.
One of the biggest question marks this offseason for Tulane was linebacker after the departures of All-AAC stars Dorian Williams and Nick Anderson. But the duo of Corey Platt Jr. and Jesus Machado — reserve linebackers from a year ago — stepped in seamlessly to fill those vacancies in the opener. Platt led the group with 15 tackles and registered one sack, while Machado recorded the second most tackles of all players in the contest with eight. The linebacker duo was instrumental in limiting South Alabama’s run game to 75 yards on 32 attempts.
Sacks played a significant role in producing that low rushing output. Jenkins and defensive tackle Kameron Hamilton each sacked South Alabama quarterback Carter Bradley on two occasions — chipping in four of the Green Wave’s five sacks. In a pressure-filled night, Bradley completed 23-of-30 passes for 190 yards, complete with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Head coach Kane Wommack and his Jaguars look to rebound one Saturday later when returning to Mobile to host Southeastern Louisiana of the FCS. After a 20-point win against a stout South Alabama defense, Tulane looks to keep the wave rolling at Yulman Stadium when it hosts Ole Miss in Week 2 — looking to snap an 11-game skid against the SEC dating back to 2006.