Winning streaks collide in Thursday night AAC showdown
The Tulane Green Wave take their three-game winning streak on the road for a midweek AAC showdown with the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, which themselves have won four straight. The Green Wave have scored exactly 38 points in each of their last three wins — allowing just 36 total points in that span — while three of the Golden Hurricane's four wins have come by eight or fewer points, two of which were against ranked teams.
Tulane closed out its 2020 home slate with a 38-12 win over Army on Saturday and held the Black Knights scoreless for the final 34 minutes of the game. The Green Wave jumped on the board with two first-quarter touchdowns and pulled away with 24 second-half points. The win moved Tulane back to .500 against the service academies in 2020 after a 27-24 loss to Navy in September.
Tulsa's meeting with Navy was postponed due to COVID-19, the only outlier since the Golden Hurricane flipped the calendar to October. After falling 16-7 at then-No. 11 Oklahoma State to open the season, Tulsa has rattled off wins against then-No. 11 UCF, USF, East Carolina, and then-No. 19 SMU, the last of which saw the Golden Hurricane trail the Mustangs 21-0 before storming back to win 28-24.
Tulsa leads the all-time series 11-5 against Tulane, but the Green Wave have won each of the last three annual meetings. Tulane won the first matchup in 1968, with Tulsa claiming the upper hand in 11 of the 12 meetings from 2005 to 2016, including eight in a row from 2005 to 2012.
Tulane at No. 25 Tulsa
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Tulsa -6.5
When Tulane Has the Ball
In his freshman season, quarterback Michael Pratt has directed Tulane to a top-20 scoring offense nationally, as the Green Wave average 36.7 points per game. Pratt has thrown 10 touchdowns in his last four games, with a pair against Army along with 197 passing yards on a 19-of-27 effort. More impressive perhaps was the young signal-caller's ability to limit mistakes, as the win over Army was Pratt's first game without an interception in over a month (Oct. 8, Houston).
Tulane isn't prolific in the passing game, but its rushing attack is one to watch. The Green Wave average 224.1 yards per game on the ground, good for 19th in FBS. Last week was, relatively speaking, a down week for Tulane's run game, which posted 171 yards and two touchdowns on 5.3 yards per carry. Amare Jones led the way with 60 yards and a touchdown on just five carries. Jha'Quan Jackson notched the other rushing score on a 14-yard effort — his only carry of the game — while also bringing in one of Pratt's two touchdown passes as part of his five catches for 37 yards.
After allowing 55 total points over its first three games, Tulsa's defense has given up 54 in the last two, allowing a season-high 30 to East Carolina on Oct. 30 before SMU scored 24 last week. The Golden Hurricane rank second in the AAC in scoring defense (21.8) and in tackles for loss per game (8.6), the latter of which is the sixth-best mark in the FBS and trails only Tulane in the AAC. Linebacker Zaven Collins has spearheaded that success, averaging an AAC-high (second in FBS) two TFLs per game after notching a pair with a sack and interception against SMU.
When Tulsa Has the Ball
Quarterback Zach Smith posted his second multi-touchdown effort in as many games in the win over SMU, completing 26 of 38 passes for 325 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. That effectiveness through the air helped to spur the Golden Hurricane to score 21 second-half points and fuel the come-from-behind win after trailing 24-7 at halftime.
Running back T.K. Wilkerson has also been key in the last two games for Tulsa. After rushing 18 times for 89 yards and two touchdowns against East Carolina, Wilkerson inched closer to the century mark with 94 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. On the receiving side, Keylon Stokes and Josh Johnson each notched eight receptions and surpassed 100 yards on Saturday; Stokes led the team with 122 yards while Johnson (101 yards) caught both of Smith's touchdown passes.
Tulane's defense ranks in the bottom half of the FBS in total yardage allowed per game but is one of the best at wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. The Green Wave enter Thursday night's game in the top-20 nationally in takeaways (14, 11th in FBS), tackles for loss per game (8.7, 5th), and sacks per game (3.33, 17th), with the TFL and sack marks topping the AAC. Defensive end Patrick Johnson leads the conference in sacks per game (1.1), and his 1.5 TFLs per game is good for second in the AAC.
Both offenses are playing well entering this midweek matchup, though Tulane's recent offensive burst has come on the ground while Tulsa had a big day through the air last week. Continuity and energy will also be key factors to watch, as Tulane has the benefit of being in rhythm with games in each of the last six weeks while Tulsa should be better rested having played just three times in that span.
Prediction: Tulane 36, Tulsa 31
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
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(Zach Smith photo courtesy of @TulsaFootball)