The No. 17-ranked Ole Miss Rebels will host the Tulane Green Wave out of the American Athletic Conference on Saturday night inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for a matchup between old rivals that promises plenty of offensive fireworks.
Ole Miss followed up an impressive 43-24 Labor Day victory over Louisville with another strong performance from its high-powered offense in Week 2 against Austin Peay from the FCS ranks. The Rebels capitalized on five touchdown passes from quarterback Matt Corral in the 54-17 blowout win over the Governors. Now 2-0 on the young season, Lane Kiffin's Rebels hope to keep the momentum rolling against one of the more dangerous Group of 5 programs in the nation.
Tulane is a program on the rise under sixth-year head coach Willie Fritz, who has led the Green Wave to a school-record three consecutive bowl appearances. And early indications are that this may be Fritz's best team yet. The Green Wave certainly put a scare into perennial CFB Playoff contender Oklahoma in Norman to open the season but fell just short of pulling off the upset in a 40-35 loss. Despite not being able to return to their home field in New Orleans due to Hurricane Ida, the Green Wave had no trouble dismantling FCS Morgan State in a 69-20 win in Birmingham last Saturday. Now 1-1, Tulane will make its way to Oxford in search of a signature upset win against Ole Miss.
Saturday's game will mark the 72nd meeting between Ole Miss and Tulane in a rivalry that dates all the way back to 1893. The two teams faced off regularly from 1923 to 1965 while Tulane was still a charter member of the SEC. The rivalry has continued off and on since that time. Ole Miss leads the all-time series 41-28 and has won each of the last 11 meetings, although the last two Ole Miss victories in 2010 and '12 were vacated due to NCAA sanctions.
Tulane at Ole Miss
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Ole Miss -14
When Tulane Has the Ball
Redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Pratt leads the way for a potent Tulane offense that is averaging 490 yards and 52 points per game under first-year play-caller Chip Long. Pratt completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 297 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the season-opening loss to Oklahoma. Pratt also had 34 rushing yards and a score on the ground against the Sooners. He connected on 8 of 13 pass attempts for 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns with zero picks against Morgan State, adding a rushing touchdown before giving way to backup signal-caller Justin Ibieta in the second quarter of the blowout win.
Pratt has no shortage of talented pass catchers at his disposal, led by tight end Tyrick James (8 rec., 142 yds., TD) and wide receiver Jaetavian Toles (7, 106, TD). You will likely see plenty of standout wide receivers Duece Watts and Jha'Quan Jackson on Saturday as well. The Green Wave also love to employ their running backs in the passing game. This group will surely test an improved, yet suspect Ole Miss pass defense that has allowed 230 yards through the air per game. The biggest challenge will fall on a Tulane offensive line that gave up four sacks against Oklahoma. And it will be no easy task keeping talented Ole Miss edge rusher Sam Williams out of the backfield. Williams already has three sacks and two forced fumbles to his credit.
The Green Wave also feature a deep and talented backfield, headlined by sophomore running back Cameron Carroll, along with freshmen Tyjae Spears and Iverson Celestine. Tulane has moved the ball fairly well on the ground so far, averaging close to 200 rushing yards per game. However, running room might prove difficult to come by on Saturday against what appears to be a much-improved Mississippi run defense that is giving up just 3.3 yards per carry.
When Ole Miss Has the Ball
The Rebels feature one of the most explosive offenses in all of college football, averaging close to 600 yards and 48.5 points per game. Heisman hopeful Matt Corral spearheads Ole Miss' high-octane attack at quarterback. Through two games, Corral has connected on 66.2 percent of his passes for 662 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions to go along with 90 yards and a score on the ground.
One of the biggest concerns facing the Ole Miss offense heading into the season was finding a replacement for elite wide receiver Elijah Moore as Corral's go-to target. Senior wide receiver Dontario Drummond has stepped into that role and performed admirably, racking up 15 catches for 284 yards and three touchdowns. Jonathan Mingo (9 rec., 154 yds., 2 TDs) and Braylon Sanders (4, 59, TD) also have proven to be bright spots in the Ole Miss passing game. The Rebels' offensive line has held up reasonably well in pass protection, allowing four sacks in two contests. However, they will be tested by a solid Tulane pass rush that has already generated six sacks. An opportunistic Green Wave pass defense has also produced four interceptions, two of which came against highly touted Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler. That said, the Tulane secondary is sure to have its hands full trying to contend with the Ole Miss passing attack on Saturday.
The Green Wave also could have a hard time containing a potent Rebels run game on Saturday night as well. The Tulane defense has performed well against the run, allowing just 80 rushing yards per game and 2.35 yards per carry through two contests. However, it will be a tall order to limit Ole Miss' ground attack that is averaging 262 yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry, led by the three-headed monster of Jerrion Ealy, Henry Parrish Jr., and Snoop Conner in the backfield.
While the Ole Miss defense has shown marked improvement from last season, the Rebels will be vulnerable against a dangerous Tulane offense. The Green Wave already went on the road and gave national powerhouse Oklahoma all it could handle. They have more than enough firepower on offense to pose a serious threat again on Saturday night in Oxford.
The problem is that Ole Miss is even more explosive and Tulane's defense is not equipped to hold Kiffin's attack at bay. The overall edge in talent and depth should pay dividends late, as the Green Wave fail to keep up on the scoreboard. Rebels take care of business at home to improve to 3-0.
Prediction: Ole Miss 45, Tulane 35
Podcast: Complete Week 3 Preview and Predictions + Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.