THREE TAKEAWAYS: Tulane battles through less than its best to beat UAB
NEW ORLEANS – It wasn’t the boat race that it was expected to be. In fact, it was anything but.
In a game filled with officiating errors, early offensive sputtering on Tulane’s part and some key offensive plays by UAB given up by the defense, the Green Wave were in a battle Saturday afternoon.
UAB entered as a 20.5-point underdog but walked into the locker room at halftime with a 20-14 lead.
Whatever the details were of the conversation were in the Tulane locker room at halftime, the effect shone through clearly in the final two quarters of the contest. The Green Wave quickly grabbed the momentum and established some sense of dominance that wasn’t necessarily felt before. However, the Blazers stayed in the game to the late stages before Tulane captured a 35-23 victory at Yulman Stadium.
The Blazers scored first, driving down 65 yards before being stopped in the red zone by the Tulane defense on third down. The Blazers settled for a 31-yard field goal from Matt Quinn on a 31-yard attempt to cap off an 11-play, 65-yard drive.
Tulane put its first points up in its second offensive drive of the game in the final minutes of the first quarter. Texas A&M transfer Yulkeith Brown reeled in his first touchdown reception of his Tulane career and the second overall of the wide receiver’s college football career.
UAB struck twice with trips to the end zone from running back Isaiah Jacobs on a 2-yard rush and a 17-yard rush in the second quarter, adding a third consecutive score on a 48-yard field goal in the final five minutes of the half, concluding a 17-point unanswered run as the Blazers capitalized on a fumble.
But then came a three-score run from Tulane, which started with a go-ahead touchdown from Makhi Hughes with less than one minute left in the first half.
The Wave kept things rolling into the second half. Hughes returned to the end zone on the team’s opening drive and tight end Alex Bauman caught his first touchdown reception since the Cotton Bowl comeback game-winner. Crucially, Tulane capitalized on a fumble recovery that killed off a UAB scoring threat when quarterback Jacob Zeno fumbled it near the goal line.
By the end of the quarter, Tulane held a 28-20 lead in a game that was still within reach of UAB, despite the stagnant stretch offensively. Allowing just one more field goal from the Blazers, tacking on a 32-yard touchdown from Pratt to wide receiver Lawrence Keys
Ahead of an open date that comes at a good time with some of the team banged up, here’s a look into three takeaways:
1. QB Michael Pratt shows bright spots, but remains hindered by knee injury.
Pratt had some bright moments with some well-placed passes in there that included the long touchdown pass to wide receiver Lawrence Keys III that put the game on ice late in the fourth quarter.
But he also did appear to reaggravate a knee injury in the first half and limped for the remainder of the game. Injuries of this nature tend to affect a quarterback adversely where lower-body mechanics are concerned, perhaps becoming the source of some of his uncharacteristic misses the past couple of games.
“Yeah, I think any injury at any position is kind of tough,” Pratt said postgame. “You just have to kind of take it day by day and do what you can and I think the knee is getting a lot better, so I’m excited about that.”
There’s a reason why Pratt was considered one of the best quarterbacks in the nation ahead of the 2023 season and there’s a lot to like from a scouting perspective, but staying healthy and running the ball smartly will be imperative for him to have a chance to stay in the mid-late round conversation for the upcoming draft if he is to declare instead of returning next year.
He finished out the game 14-of-23 passing for 184 yards with two touchdowns.
2. RB Makhi Hughes is a cut above the rest.
The running back situation has been a bit curious as Tulane continues its rotation of its rushers, with some questions as to why Hughes has not been quite as involved as of late despite the positive product he leaves on the field seemingly every time he takes it.
While there’s been no clear indication the competition is over or as to when it will be, it’s hard to see a world at this point in which Hughes isn’t getting the bulk of the workload as long as he’s healthy.
Hughes certainly made his presence felt on Saturday, responsible for a pair of Tulane’s scores between a 1-yard touchdown and an 18-yard rushing touchdown. He finished out the contest with 22 carries for 123 yards with 2 touchdowns and a long rush of 21 yards.
“That was huge,” Pratt said when I asked him about Hughes’ performance postgame. “He’s a guy that resembles Tyjae (Spears) in a lot of ways. He comes to practice every single day. He doesn’t say a lot. He gets the job done, he does what he needs to do. He practices really hard and does the little things right. So to see him come out here and compete and do really well was exciting for us.”
3. Second half adjustments prove key.
This was largely seen as something of a tune-up game for Tulane despite it being the conference opener because of UAB’s all-around struggles. Instead, it ended up being a highly competitive one in which, if anything, the Blazers seemed to be the team more in rhythm in the first two quarters against the odds.
The Wave allowed just 3 points out of UAB in the second half in comparison to the 20 points the defense surrendered to Zeno and company in the first half. The defense wasn’t the only component of the team that stepped up, though. The offense also picked things up in a big manner, scoring 21 points of its own in the third and fourth quarter.
Fritz noted that without some of the mistakes, which there were much less of in the second half, the game could have been all Tulane’s at a much different point.
“We didn’t play really good in the first half,” Fritz said. “We had some untimely turnovers, fumbles, had one in the second half as well. If we don’t do that, we are probably able to score a couple of more touchdowns and kind of put the game out of reach a lot earlier than we did.”
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Crissy Froyd is a sports reporter of roughly nine years who graduated from LSU and has spent time at USA TODAY SMG, NBC Sports and the Fan Nation network on Sports Illustrated. She specializes in quarterback analysis and covers the SEC and college football across the state of Louisiana in addition to working with several college quarterbacks across the nation.