Green Wave and Midshipmen meet on Saturday with the winner securing a postseason berth
Bowl eligibility is on the line in the American Athletic Conference as the Tulane Green Wave travel to Annapolis to take on the Navy Midshipmen. Tulane fell to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in AAC play in losing 47-17 to Memphis a week ago, while Navy improved to 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the conference with a 35-3 victory over South Florida.
Tulane at Navy
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Navy -3.5
When Tulane Has the Ball
The Green Wave feature one of the best and most balanced offenses in the league. Tulane ranks third in the American and No. 16 nationally in yards per play (6.72) overall. Willie Fritz's squad ranks as the second-best rushing offense (267.71 ypg) in the conference (and eighth-best in the nation) and leads the league and ranks sixth among all FBS offenses with an average of 5.97 yards per rushing attempt. The Green Wave have also averaged 205.3 passing yards per game, which ranks No. 8 in the AAC.
Tulane spreads the ball around to four running backs: Corey Dauphine (377 rushing yards, 4 TDs), Darius Bradwell (325, TD), Amare Jones (236, 4) and Cameron Carroll (168, TD), all of whom have more than 30 carries this year. Quarterback Justin McMillan leads the team with 69 carries, 390 rushing yards, and seven touchdowns. McMillan has also completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 1,229 yards and nine TDs with five interceptions, while focusing primarily on three receivers: Darnell Mooney (24 receptions, 397 yards, 4 TDs), Jalen McCleskey (21, 255, 2) and the versatile Jones (23, 248, TD).
It will be a challenge for the Navy defense, but the Midshipmen should be up for it given the play of the unit this season. After surrendering a horrific 6.52 yards per play in 2018, Navy has rebounded to allow just 4.63 yards per snap this year, moving up more than 100 spots in the national rankings to No. 17. The Midshipmen also lead the AAC in total defense (282.5), ranking 13th nationally, and rushing defense (96.67), which ranks 16th. The pass rush is arguably the most improved aspect of the unit; although Navy ranks just 44th overall in sacks (17.0), the Midshipmen tied for worst in the nation with just 10 sacks in all of 2018.
When Navy Has the Ball
It should come as no surprise that the only AAC team better than Tulane at running the football is Navy. The Midshipmen are averaging 345.0 rushing yards per game, the most in the country by more than 40 yards per contest. Quarterback Malcolm Perry is the primary option in the Navy triple-option attack, and he leads the team with 124 attempts, 792 yards, and an AAC-best 14 touchdowns. No FBS quarterback — or Group of 5 conference player, for that matter — has scored more on the ground. Only Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard and Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor have more rushing TDs, with 15 apiece.
Perry did not complete a pass in the win over USF last week (he was 0-for-3 with two interceptions) and had just nine passing yards the previous week versus Tulsa (a 45-17 victory). Nevertheless, he showed improvement as a passer earlier in the year. Through the first four games this season, Perry completed 22-of-37 pass attempts (59.5 percent) for 480 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. His 12.2 yards per pass attempt this season would rank second only to Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts (13.5) if he had enough passes to qualify for the FBS leaderboard.
Tulane ranks fourth in the AAC and 40th in the country in total defense (346.9). However, the Green Wave rank seventh in the league in yards allowed per play (5.23), which sits at No. 48 nationally. Last week, Memphis victimized Tulane through the air, gaining 358 passing yards, which was by far the most the unit had allowed all season. The Tigers also gained 7.34 yards per play, which was a season-high against the Tulane defense.
Bowl eligibility is at stake for the winner, but more importantly, because both teams lost to Memphis earlier in the year and have yet to play undefeated SMU, the loser will likely fall out of contention in the AAC West.
Navy and Tulane are evenly matched and rank among the top 25 nationally in scoring. Tulane has averaged 36.0 points per game this season, which sits No. 24 on the FBS leaderboard, five spots behind the Midshipmen, who have averaged 37.3 points per contest. However, Navy has done a better job keeping opponents off the scoreboard. The Midshipmen rank No. 12 overall in scoring defense (16.2 ppg), while the Green Wave have surrendered 23.1 points on average, which ranks No. 45.
Navy has the home-field advantage, and a slight edge both at quarterback and on defense. The Midshipmen are rightly favored, but the game should be close.
Prediction: Navy 28, Tulane 27