New Orleans, LA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 13th-annual R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl is on tap for Saturday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as the Tulane Green Wave take on the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns.
After winning just four games in 2011 and 2012 combined, Tulane was one of the nation's most improved teams this season, as it finished with a 7-5 record, including a 5-3 mark in Conference USA. The Green Wave came sliding into bowl season with losses in three of their last four games, but the good news is that, even though this is technically a neutral-field contest, they will have an advantage playing in their home stadium. They went 5-1 at the Superdome this season.
"We are excited about the opportunity to participate in the New Orleans Bowl and to play in one more game in the Superdome," Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. This game is a great reward for the hard work and dedication our coaches and players have demonstrated throughout the 2013 season."
Louisiana was on the fast track to winning the Sun Belt Conference outright, but after closing out the season with consecutive losses to ULM (31-28) and South Alabama (30-8), it had to settle for a share of the league title with Arkansas State. It was still an impressive season for the Cajuns, who went 8-4 overall, and they will be partaking in this event for the third straight season. They won in 2011 over San Diego State (32-30) as well as last season versus East Carolina (43-34).
"We are excited to receive our third straight bowl invitation," Louisiana coach Mark Hudspeth said. "We look forward to another great bowl experience that includes our fans taking over the great city of New Orleans...Our team and fans will be ready."
These instate rivals have met 26 times before, with Tulane having a firm grasp on the series, 21-5. The teams met as recently as October of 2012, when the Cajuns dismissed the Green Wave, 41-13.
The Green Wave became bowl eligible this season despite boasting one of the worst offenses in C-USA, as they put up just 25.1 points per game on 304.2 yards per contest.
Tulane has endured plenty of shaky play under center. Nick Montana has taken the majority of the snaps, but he completed just 53.1 percent of his passes for 1,654 yards with 14 touchdowns against nine interceptions. Devin Powell has also seen time, although he hasn't performed much better (56.2 percent completions, 458 yards, five TDs, four INTs).
Despite the inconsistencies at the quarterback position, Ryan Grant has been able to shine at receiver, as he finished third in C-USA in both receptions (70) and yards (926), while hauling in nine touchdowns. Justyn Shackleford (34 receptions, 356 yards, five TDs) has also been a solid target.
As a whole, Tulane's rushing attack has not been very impressive (128.1 ypg), but Orleans Darkwa has played well in spots, with 780 yards and nine touchdowns.
While the offense has struggled, the Green Wave's defense has played outstanding, as the unit allows just 21.3 points per game, while ranking third in the nation with 33 takeaways (17 INTs, 16 fumble recoveries).
Lorenzo Doss is one of the best cover corners in the FBS, recording seven interceptions, while breaking up another 16 passes. Sam Scofield has a team- best 94 tackles, Julius Warmsley (15.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks) and Royce LaFrance (10.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks) have been strong on the defensive line, and Derrick Strozier and Jordan Sullen have two picks apiece.
Despite stumbling late in the season, Louisiana had the Sun Belt's most prolific scoring offense with 34.6 points per game, and it is led by a pair of tailbacks who were named to the All-Conference first team.
The bell cow this season has been Alonzo Harris, who's carried the ball 186 times for 868 yards, while punching it into the end zone 13 times, but Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year Elijah McGuire also played a big factor. On nearly half the carries as Harris (92), McGuire ran for nearly as many yards (818) and scored seven touchdowns. The versatile back also took advantage of his 15 receptions, turning them into 290 yards and three scores.
Terrance Broadway completed 62.3 percent of his passes this season for 2,276 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while also boasting impressive rushing totals (421 yards, eight TDs). However, he is questionable for this contest with a wrist injury that held him out of the regular-season finale. If Broadway cannot suit up, either Brooks Haack (21-of-35, 224 yards, TD, INT) or Jalen Nixon (4-of-10, 94 yards, TD, INT) will get the call.
Jamal Robinson (50 receptions, 812 yards, eight TDs) established great chemistry with Broadway this season, but with Haack and Nixon under center versus South Alabama a few weeks ago, he managed just one catch.
The Cajuns have played stellar defense this season, allowing 26.9 points and 394.0 yards per game.
Leading the unit is First Team All-Conference selection Justin Anderson at linebacker. Anderson made plays all over the field with 123 tackles, 10.0 TFL, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Dominique Tovell (64 tackles, 12.0 TFL) gets a strong push up front. Darius Barksdale and T.J. Worthy have each picked off two passes.