College football’s bowl season continues on Tuesday afternoon with a meeting between Tulane and Nevada in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise. The Green Wave and Wolf Pack are both making a bowl game for the third consecutive year, with Nevada coming back to the blue turf after losing to Ohio 30-21 last season.
Tulane has reached new heights under coach Willie Fritz. The Green Wave are 29-32 over the last five years, but the program has made a bowl game for three straight years for the first time in school history. Also, with a win on Tuesday, Tulane can clinch its third consecutive winning season for the first time since 1979-81. After a 9-15 mark through the first two years in the Crescent City, Fritz is 20-17 over the last three years at one of the toughest jobs in the AAC. The fifth-year coach is dealing with some turnover, as offensive play-caller Will Hall was recently named the head coach at Southern Miss, and defensive coordinator Jack Curtis was dismissed at the end of the regular season. Tulane started its season with a win over South Alabama but proceeded to lose four of its next five games. After that setback, the Green Wave rebounded to win four of their next five contests, including a 35-21 victory against Memphis and a 38-12 matchup versus Army.
Nevada started its 2020 season with five straight victories, including a key 26-21 win against San Diego State on Nov. 21 in Reno. However, coach Jay Norvell’s squad lost two out of its last three, including a 24-21 matchup at Hawaii and a tough 30-20 defeat to San Jose State that cost the Wolf Pack a chance to play for the Mountain West title. Nevada’s run to a 6-2 mark in 2020 brought Norvell’s record to 24-22 over four years in Reno. Norvell’s success already has him on the radar for Power 5 openings this offseason.
These two teams have met only one time, with Tulane claiming a 34-17 win in 1992. The Green Wave are 6-7 in 13 bowl appearances but have won their last two trips. Nevada is 6-11 in its bowl history and has won two out of its last three postseason opportunities.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Nevada vs. Tulane
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Tulane -3
When Nevada Has the Ball
Scoring points isn’t a problem for either team, but how each offense goes about it is a little different. Nevada’s offense leans heavily on the right arm of quarterback Carson Strong and a deep collection of skill players to average 29.9 points a game and 6.4 yards per snap. Strong threw for 2,335 yards as a freshman last fall but exceeded that total (2,587) in only eight appearances this season. The sophomore is accurate (69.4 percent in completion percentage) and makes few mistakes (just four picks).
While wide receiver Romeo Doubs is the primary go-to target, Nevada has plenty of other weapons to deploy in the passing game. Tight end Cole Turner is a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds and enters the bowl game with 44 receptions for 545 yards and seven scores. He’s joined by receivers Tory Horton (18 catches), Melquan Stovall (33), and Justin Lockhart (26). This collection of skill talent on the outside is going to be a challenge for Tulane’s pass defense, which has allowed 15 completions of 40 yards or more this fall. Additionally, the Green Wave ranked 10th in the AAC in pass efficiency defense. Of the 11 opponents faced, six have eclipsed 300 or more passing yards against Tulane’s defense.
On paper, Nevada should have success moving the ball through the air in this game. However, Tulane’s pass rush might have something to say about that. The Green Wave paced the AAC with 36 sacks, with Patrick Johnson (10) and Cameron Sample (five) capable of wreaking havoc against a Wolf Pack front that surrendered 19 sacks, including four in the loss to San Jose State. The Green Wave will have some new faces in the trenches on Tuesday, however. Johnson and starting nose guard DeAndre Williams were ruled out on Monday for this matchup, and Sample is a gametime decision. Nevada averages the fewest rushing attempts (26.5) per game in the Mountain West and running against Tulane’s defense (second in the AAC) is a tough assignment. Toa Taua (573 rushing yards) and Devonte Lee (322) don’t need huge numbers, but a little production would help slow down Tulane’s pass rush and keep the offense out of obvious long-yardage situations.
When Tulane Has the Ball
Tulane edges Nevada in the scoring department (35.4), but as mentioned previously, it’s a complete contrast in styles. Fritz’s team leans on the run on 63.7 percent of their plays and ranks second in the AAC in per-game production (218.9). This offense runs slightly behind the Wolf Pack on a per-play basis (5.7), but don’t expect a ton of changes even though there’s a new coordinator (Chip Long) calling the shots.
This offense suffered setbacks when Corey Dauphine was lost for the year due to an injury in the summer, and Tyjae Spears suffered a season-ending ailment after three games. However, the backfield is one of the deepest positions on Tulane’s roster. Stephon Huderson had his best year in a Green Wave uniform, rushing for 721 yards over 118 attempts. He was joined by Cameron Carroll (621) and Amare Jones (389) in the regular season, but Jones chose to transfer in December. Led by standout lineman Dom Peterson, Nevada finished fifth in the Mountain West against the run. The Wolf Pack limited opponents to 3.8 yards per rush but some leaks appeared in the loss to San Jose State. The Spartans were able to post 200 yards over 27 attempts for 7.4 per carry.
Although Tulane is a run-first offense, the development of quarterback Michael Pratt will give this team more versatility in the coming seasons. The true freshman impressed by throwing for 1,638 yards and 18 touchdowns to just five picks over nine appearances. Pratt is coming off a season-high 254 yards in the win over Memphis and is difficult to defend thanks to his mobility on the ground (204 yards and seven scores). Tulane isn’t deep at receiver, but Pratt doesn’t lack for capable weapons. Duece Watts (31 catches), Jha’Quan Jackson, Phat Watts, and tight end Tyrick James headline the list of options on the outside. Nevada held its first six opponents under 250 passing yards in each game, but both Fresno State (485) and San Jose State (306) easily eclipsed that mark. With a pass rush that has generated only 15 sacks, Pratt should have plays downfield if the Wolf Pack can’t get to the quarterback.
Considering the unusual season and conference-only slate, it’s hard to read a ton into some of the statistics. However, under new defensive coordinator Brian Ward, Nevada cut its per-play average allowed from 6.1 in 2019 to 5.4 in ’20. This unit doesn’t generate a lot of turnovers (six in 2020) but has managed to rank third in the Mountain West in third-down defense.
Motivation is always an x-factor in bowl games, but that shouldn’t be an issue for Tulane or Nevada in this one. The Green Wave ended the regular season by beating Memphis and have a chance to earn their seventh victory for the third year in a row. The Wolf Pack ended on a down note by losing to San Jose State, but coach Jay Norvell has this program on solid ground and this game is a prime opportunity to avenge last season’s close loss to Ohio on the blue turf. This game is all about style of play and which team can impose its will. Can Nevada come out firing with Strong and Doubs to get Tulane out of its gameplan? Or will the Green Wave get Pratt, Huderson and Carroll on track on the ground, while the defense gets to Strong with a consistent pass rush? Not having Johnson or Williams (and potentially Sample) is a big loss up front for Fritz's team. Just two of the last eight Famous Idaho Potato Bowls were decided by single digits. Expect that trend to change on Tuesday, as the Green Wave edge the Wolf Pack in a close one.
Prediction: Tulane 27, Nevada 24
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(Top photo by Parker Waters/Tulane Athletics, courtesy of tulanegreenwave.com)