It was a battle between the reigning league champion and a conference newcomer participating in its first-ever AAC matchup. It was a battle between a 3-1 Tulane team and a 1-3 UAB team, with the heavily favored Green Wave enjoying the backdrop of homefield advantage. Yet, it was a battle in New Orleans.
Tulane needed to overcome a 13-point first half deficit to take down a gritty UAB squad led by first-year head coach Trent Dilfer. The 35-23 result on the scoreboard doesn’t do justice to how tightly-contested this matchup was throughout the second half.
The Green Wave put the icing on the cake with 47 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter on a critical 4th and 9 from the UAB 32-yard line. Rather than attempt a long, yet risky field goal to cushion the lead to eight, Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt went full send. The fourth-year starter air mailed a bomb toward the left corner of the end zone, and it was corralled by Lawrence Keys III to provide the clinching blow.
It capped a 184-yard, 2-touchdown day by the quarterback who returned from a knee injury last Saturday against Nicholls. It wasn’t the most efficient day for Tulane’s offense which fumbled twice in critical situations to prevent a higher scoring output. The first fumble transpired right after UAB captured a 10-7 advantage in the early second quarter. UAB benefited from ideal field position and utilized the halfback duo of Jermaine Brown Jr. and Isaiah Jacobs to get into the end zone in two plays.
One Green Wave three-and-out later, UAB sunk a 48-yard field goal to claim a 20-7 lead — the Blazers’ largest over any FBS team this season. Tulane made quick work of erasing the deficit by means of an explosive offense. A long run by Pratt set up running back Makhi Hughes for a 1-yard touchdown — Hughes’ first touchdown in a spectacular 123-yard performance. Then on the opening drive of the third quarter, he struck again with an 18-yard touchdown run to recapture a 21-20 lead.
As Tulane’s defense started generating routine stops, Hughes kept responding with a series of stellar runs. He positioned the Green Wave for a third-straight touchdown, but Shaadie Clayton-Johnson coughed up the ball at the UAB 5-yard line, breathing new life into the Blazers. However, UAB couldn’t capitalize and turned it over on downs upon reaching Tulane territory, preventing that turnover from developing into a full-blown catastrophe.
The Green Wave finally secured that desired 28-20 lead in response to the turnover on downs. Pratt threw his first touchdown pass of the day to a wide open tight end Alex Bauman for 14 yards. But the door remained ajar in a one-score game, and UAB flew right down to the doorstep of the goal line thanks to some strong runs by Brown. However, quarterback Jacob Zeno fumbled on the 1-yard line and Tulane’s Bailey Despanie recovered in the end zone to thwart of UAB’s best chance at tying the game.
UAB eventually trekked back into the red zone, but Tulane’s defense held firm to force a field goal with 4:52 remaining. However, the Blazers never recovered the ball with a one-score deficit as Pratt delivered the bomb to Keys on Tulane’s final drive.
Tulane (4-1, 1-0 AAC) finished with 264 rushing yards in the home victory to jump to 1-0 in AAC play. The Green Wave also showed dominance on the defensive line with seven tackles for loss and a slew of pressures on the Blazers. UAB (1-4, 0-1 AAC) is off to its worst start since the program returned from the two-year hiatus in 2017.