Two of the nation's top running teams go head-to-head when the Green Wave take on the Black Knights
The Tulane Green Wave captivated the college football-watching public in Week 4, beating Houston 38-31 in dramatic come-from-behind fashion on a Thursday night. The win, which included a fake quarterback kneel and a long game-winning touchdown pass in the final seconds of regulation, improved Tulane’s record to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in American Athletic Conference play. It also set up an important non-conference clash with the Army West Point Black Knights.
Army also is 3-1 following a Week 4 win and bye. The Blacks Knights beat Morgan State 52-21 two weeks ago.
Tulane at Army
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 5 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Tulane -3
When Tulane Has the Ball
Tulane head coach Willie Fritz and offensive coordinator Will Hall are a dynamic duo when it comes to designing an offense. Under their direction, Tulane has averaged 6.59 yards per play, which ranks third in the AAC and No. 26 in the country. The Green Wave use a balanced attack that spreads the ball around among a deep group of skill position players, led by quarterback Justin McMillan.
McMillan is one of three Tulane players with more than 200 rushing yards to his credit this season, and one of five with at least 100 yards on the ground. He has accounted for 245 yards on 40 carries (6.13 ypc) and also leads the Green Wave with four rushing touchdowns. Darius Bradwell is the leading rusher for Tulane, having gained 255 yards on 54 carries (4.7 ypc), and dynamic change-up backs Corey Dauphine (202 yards, 10.6 ypc, 2 TDs) and Amare Jones (137, 7.2, 3) round out a unit that ranks second in the AAC and No. 9 nationally in rushing offense (273.3 ypg).
Though his passing stats are modest, McMillan can make big plays with his arm. In four starts, McMillan has completed 50.6 percent of his passes for 610 yards and five touchdowns and two interceptions. However, it’s worth noting that his performance against Auburn, which boasts one of the most talented defenses in the country, has weighed down those numbers. Against Houston, McMillan tied a career high with three touchdown passes — two to Jalen McCleskey, including the 53-yard game-winner, and a 48-yarder to leading receiver Darnell Mooney.
Army will have its hands full trying to slow down the Green Wave, though as always, leading tackler Cole Christiansen (39 tackles), standout pass rusher Elijah Riley (three sacks, five tackles for a loss) and the rest of the top-20 Army defense (287.8 ypg) have the benefit of playing limited drives because of the methodical Black Knights offense.
When Army Has the Ball
Army is at its best when quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. is running the triple option. Hopkins has run for 121 yards and leads the team with three rushing touchdowns this season. He has also completed 5-of-12 pass attempts for 96 yards with one touchdown and one interception in two starts. Unfortunately, the senior has missed each of the last two games due to an undisclosed injury.
In his place, sophomore Jabari Laws has played under center in each of the last two games. Laws now ranks fourth on the team in rushing with 143 yards, behind Connor Slomka (261), Kell Walker (161) and Sandon McCoy (158). As a unit, the Army rushing attack has continued to post impressive statistics, as the Black Knights are tied for fourth nationally in rushing offense (293.5 ypg).
While Hopkins has been missed, the Black Knights should be able to move the football on the ground whether he plays or not. The plan of attack should also be helpful in neutralizing pass rusher Patrick Johnson, who leads the Green Wave with two sacks this season and posted 10.5 last year.
Both Army and Tulane have 3-1 records with a pair of wins against Group of 5 conference opponents, one victory over an FCS school, and a well-played loss to a college football blueblood. Army nearly knocked off Michigan in The Big House before losing 24-21 in double overtime, and Tulane kept Auburn off balance most of the night in a 24-6 road loss to the Tigers. Both teams run unique offenses and spread the football around to a variety of playmakers, and both teams play sound, solid defense.
Army will miss Hopkins if he’s not yet healthy enough to play, but the Black Knights should still be able to run the football regardless. But Tulane should also be able to exploit its talent advantage on offense.
The Green Wave have succeeded both on the ground and through the air this season, and with an extra week to prepare following the win over Houston, they should play just well enough on defense to leave West Point with a victory.
Prediction: Tulane 29, Army 24
(Top photo courtesy of Army Athletics)