Tulane is making its first postseason appearance since 2002.
Tulane is back in postseason play for the first time since 2002, when Chris Scelfo guided the Green Wave to the Hawaii Bowl after a 7–5 regular season. This time around, Tulane will be playing its bowl game in its home stadium, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The players no doubt would have preferred to leave the city of New Orleans, but any bowl is a good bowl for a program that averaged 2.9 wins from 2005-12. Curtis Johnson, who spent 10 years on the staff at Miami (Fla.) from 1996-05, won only two games in 2012, his first as the Wave’s head coach. This year, Tulane won six of its first eight games before struggling late and settling for a 7–5 record. The Wave’s 5–3 mark in Conference USA was the school’s first winning league record since the 1998 team went undefeated.
A trip to the Big Easy has become a December tradition for Tulane’s opponent, Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns will be playing in the New Orleans Bowl for the third straight season — and they will be searching for their third straight bowl victory after beating San Diego State 32–20 in 2011 and East Carolina 43–34 in ’12. Mark Hudspeth’s team opened the season with two losses and closed the season with two losses. In between, the Cajuns won eight straight and have now gone 8–4 in the regular season in each of Hudspeth’s three years on the job.
Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 21 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Tulane -2.5
Tulane’s Key to Victory: Stop the Run
The Green Wave rank second in Conference USA in rushing defense, allowing only 119.7 yards per game. Those stats have been padded a bit by quarterback sacks — Tulane had 34 for a negative-235 yards — but this defense does an outstanding job defending the run. The Wave held eight of their 12 opponents to under 4.0 yards per carry and four of those eight to under 2.0 yards per carry. Those are impressive numbers. Tulane will be tasked with slowing down a Louisiana-Lafayette team that leads the Sun Belt in rushing with 208.7 yards per game. The Cajuns have two backs who rushed for 800 yards — including Elijah McGuire, who averaged 8.9 yards on his 92 attempts — and also get production on the ground from quarterback Terrance Broadway (421 yards, eight TDs). Turnovers will also be key for Tulane. The Wave are third in the nation in turnovers forced (33) and tied for ninth in turnover margin (plus-1.00). Tulane, which struggles on offense, can have a tough time putting points on the board when it is not forcing turnovers and setting up the offense with solid field position. The Wave were plus-15 in their seven wins and minus-3 in their five losses.
Louisiana-Lafayette’s Key to Victory: A healthy and productive Terrance Broadway
With Broadway in the lineup, Louisiana-Lafayette went 8–3, with losses at Arkansas, at Kansas State and vs. ULM (by three points). Without their starting quarterback, the Cajuns lost 30–8 at South Alabama in the season-finale. The lesson here is that Broadway is very, very important to this team. The senior broke his arm in the fourth quarter against ULM and is questionable for the bowl game. Three redshirt freshmen played in the South Alabama game, combining to complete 9-of-26 passes for 143 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. If Broadway can’t play, the Cajuns figure to struggle in the passing game and will be forced to rely on their running game against the stout Tulane rush defense.
Key Player: Orleans Darkwa, RB, Tulane
Darkwa needs 75 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. He struggled in the season-finale, rushing for only 26 yards on 14 carries in a 17–13 loss to Rice. In the two previous games, however, he combined for 240 yards on 37 carries as the Wave lost to UTSA and beat UTEP. Earlier in the year, he had 118 yards (on a 6.9-yard average) in a season-changing win at ULM, and he averaged 4.7 yards and 5.1 yards in key wins over East Carolina and Tulsa, respectively. The Nashville native was not offered by any SEC schools coming out of Ensworth High School, but he’s had a very solid career in Conference USA.
So much of this game hinges on Broadway’s availability. Louisiana-Lafayette has multiple weapons at running back, but its offense will be too one-dimensional if one of the redshirt freshmen is forced to start. Hudspeth has done a great job during his time in Lafayette, but this is probably the worst of his three teams — each of which won eight games in the regular season. The 2013 Cajuns have only one win over a bowl team (Arkansas State) and struggled in some of their wins against lesser opponents. Tulane‘s schedule was a bit more challenging, and this game probably means more to the Green Wave, who will playing in their first bowl game in over a decade.
Prediction: Tulane 27, Louisiana Lafayette 20