Location: Yulman Stadium - New Orleans, Louisiana
Date: Thursday, August 30
Time: 7 p.m. CT
Betting Line: Wake Forest -7, O/U 56
Records: Tulane 0-0; Wake Forest 0-0
All-Time Series: Tulane leads 2-1
Last Meeting: Tulane 3; Wake Forest 7 (Sept. 1, 2016)
Quick Hits: Wake Forest’s potent offense will be without some of their key playmakers from a year ago. Quarterback Kendall Hinton is currently serving a three-game suspension for violating team rules and his backup Jamie Newman has an injured quad meaning he will not get the start either. Receiver Scotty Washington is listed as questionable for the game with a shoulder injury but appears unlikely to play. On the other side of the ball defensive back Arkeem Byrd is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Tulane could be without some offensive pieces of their own. Transfer receiver Freddy Canteen suffered a season-ending shoulder injury earlier this year will for sure be out while teammate Terren Encalade is listed as questionable with an undisclosed injury. Tight end Charles Jones II may be inactive as well due to an ankle injury. His status is also questionable. Running back Darius Bradwell is not likely to play with an undisclosed injury. Quarterback Justin McMillan recently transferred over from LSU and since he is a graduate transfer, he is eligible to play immediately if need be.
It will be an emotional night for Green Wave fans as the team will honor former player Devon Walker by retiring his No. 18. Walker was paralyzed during a game back in 2012.
From Wake Forest’s Perspective: On offense the Deacons boasted one of the nation’s best scoring units last year (ranked 21st of 130) but they face a unique challenge to begin this season. No Hinton and an injured Newman means that true freshman Sam Hartman will get the nod at QB. Hartman would be wise to target sophomore receiver Greg Dortch as much as possible against a revamped Tulane secondary. Dortch was outstanding a year ago leading the team with 722 yards and nine touchdowns. He put up those numbers in only eight games before an injury prematurely ended his season. Jaquarii Roberson and Alex Bachman will also be viable passing options. Roberson had a great camp for the Deacs and Bachman has proven to be effective on the outside. Last year he had 365 yards and three scores.
Senior running back Matt Colburn should see the bulk of the carries. He led the team in rushing yards (904) and rushing average (5.4) a season ago. Seeing as they have a freshman taking snaps, Wake Forest may rely heavily on Colburn. He could find relative ease romping up and down the field against the Green Wave defense that lost eight starters following 2017. This is a game in which he may very well become the Deacons’ primary mode of attack.
On the other side of the ball, Wake will need to slow down a potent Tulane offense led by quarterback Jonathan Banks. Junior defensive backs Essang Bassey and Amari Henderson will be big against the Green Wave receiving corps that may be without Encalade. Wake Forest’s secondary will look to render the receivers ineffective however, Tulane’s passing attack could still be a threat even without Encalade. Last season receiver Darnell Mooney had a respectable 599 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 17.6 yards per catch. He will be no easy task to defend.
In the middle, Justin Strnad and Demetrius Kemp will be key in keeping Tulane’s ground game at bay. Last season the duo of linebackers combined for 114 total tackles and 5.5 sacks. They could see a fair amount of success against the Wave’s rushing attack that is now without 2017 standouts Sherman Badie and Dontrell Hilliard. But perhaps even more importantly they, among others, will have to have their heads on a swivel to keep an eye on the versatile Banks. Tulane’s senior quarterback is more than capable of calling his own number and punishing a defense with his legs. Last season he was the team’s second leading rusher (592) behind only Hilliard. This is where it could get ugly for the Deacs who are now without defensive lineman Duke Ejiofor. Ejiofor was responsible for seven of the teams 27 sacks last season and stuffed opposing runners behind the line 17 times. His absence could really be felt on Thursday night.
If there’s one area the Deacons could get a leg up, it’s special teams. In 2017 Dortch wasn’t just a dynamic force on offense. He took punt and kick return duties as well and racked up over 550 total yards doing so. In a game where field position will be big, the Deacs will undoubtedly look to No. 3 to be their X-factor.
As far as kicking goes, we could see either Zach Murphy or Nick Sciba as Wake Forest is still in the middle of a position battle there.
From Tulane’s Perspective: This game is the perfect stage for head coach Willie Fritz to showcase what his dynamic offense can really do. As mentioned above, Banks is a nightmare because of his dual-threat playmaking ability and the Wave would be smart to exploit Wake Forest’s defense that, much like their own, is trying to regain an identity after losing an array of starters from a year ago. The triple-option could go a long way for the offense.
Tulane went 4-0 last season when rushing for over 250 yards so if Banks and Corey Dauphine can gash the Deacon defense with their legs then success should follow in a variety of forms. Play action could become a viable threat pending the success of the running attack. If Wake’s defenders are gravitating toward the box, Tulane receivers may be left in one-on-one matchups. Don’t be shocked if Fritz has the offense trying a few deep shots as the game progresses.
A productive night on the offensive end will be huge because the Wave defense will have its own set of worries to deal with. Last season the Deacs were second in the ACC with 465.8 yards per contest and again Dortch could be the real killer. He will most likely receive double and maybe even triple-coverage attention in the secondary meaning safety Roderic Teamer Jr. and cornerback Donnie Lewis Jr. will both have their hands full.
If anyone’s the right guy for the job, though, it’s Lewis. Last season, he led the team in passes defended (11) and had two picks. He’s battle tested after opposing quarterbacks wisely spent much of their time throwing away from Parry Nickerson who has since left. This is Lewis’ secondary to lead now and Thursday night against a talented Deacons receiving corps will be baptism by fire for both him and Teamer.
For all the potential dangers through the air, the Wave’s defense has an opportunity to set a tone on the front end. Zachery Harris will lead the linebacker squad and, one way or another, this game will play a large part in defining their new, post-Rae Juan Marbley identity.
Wake Forest had 22 rushing touchdowns in 2017; for those of you counting at home that’s an average of almost two per game. Stopping the Deacon rushing attack won’t be a cakewalk, as they boast Colburn who, as previously stated, knows how to tear through a defense. Last season he had four 100+ yard games and seven scores so stopping him on the ground will be a priority for the Wave.
Final Thoughts: This is a perfect initial litmus test for these two teams for a variety of reasons. Both defenses are trying to re-establish themselves after losing several foundational pieces and have the “privilege” of going up against high-powered offenses. Defensively, the Green Wave has a slight advantage simply because Wake will be playing a backup QB instead of their starter.
Conversely, this is a great chance for both offenses to flex their muscles and put up some big time numbers. I know my initial take on this game, which you can see here, has the final being in the 20s but really don’t be surprised if we hit the 30s or even low 40s. This game has shootout written all over it but again Tulane has the slight edge on offense with Banks being the difference maker.
Finally, on special teams, Wake Forest is the clear favorite just because Dortch is so dynamic; the guy could easily break one or two lose. With the kind of playmaking talent we’ll see strewn about the field against two re-designed defenses, I don’t see how this won’t be an offensive battle. It’s shaping up to be an exciting, high-scoring affair in New Orleans.
Prediction: Tulane 35 - Wake Forest 32