No. 25 Tulane rides monster first half to 38-28 win over Memphis
The most remarkable turnaround in college football rolled on Saturday afternoon in the Crescent City.
Saturday afternoon marked just the second time in school history that the Tulane Green Wave have played in front of a sellout crowd. The fans received outcome they were wanting to see as Tulane jumped out to a 35-0 halftime lead en route to 38-28 win over the visiting Memphis Tigers.
It takes all three phases to do a the job on a fall Saturday, and Tulane brought the heat in all of them early. The Green Wave had two offensive touchdowns, a 90-yard punt return touchdown by Jha’quan Jackson and a forced fumble by Macon Clark that the offense was able to turn into another score.
Tulane allowed some explosive plays after halftime as the Tigers put up four touchdowns – two in the third quarter and two in the fourth.
The game ended in dramatic fashion as Jarius Monroe picked off Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan in the back of the end-zone on first and goal. The Tigers ultimately failed in the fourth quarter despite showing some promise, as has been the case for Memphis (4-4, 1-1 in AAC) in recent conference games that have ended as heartbreakers.
Tyjae Spears, the Gift That Keeps On Giving
Spears has been among the most reliable players for the Green Wave all year, playing his role even when the stat line doesn’t hugely reflect his efforts. Spears’ talent consistently shows on film but this game saw him post big numbers with a heavy workload.
For the third time this season and the second consecutive week, Spears crossed the century-mark rushing. He finishied with 24 carries for 158 yards with a touchdown, a short 3-yard rush late in the first quarter.
It sounds like a broken record at this point, but Spears could hardly be a more complete running back in terms of versatility that should help him translate to the NFL so well. He’s effective out of the backfield, as a blocker and as a traditional running back carrying the load when asked.
Michael Pratt’s Consistency Yields Balanced Tulane Offense Again
Correctly picking good matchups and continuing to show solid decision-making, Pratt is also running well when needed while not doing too much. One example was when he led the Green Wave on a smooth, 11-play drive that ended with his taking it across the goalline. He continues to be a threat with his legs when needed in the red zone.
Multiple receivers have shown huge improvement from last season to this year. Overall, the stable of weapons like DeaJaun McDougle, Lawrence Keys, Deuce Watts, Tyrick James, Jha’Quan Jackson and Shae Wyatt all caught passes with Watts responsible for the lone receiving touchdown on a 6-yard reception in the final 30 seconds of the opening half. Ashaad Clayton and Tyjae Spears also snared targets out of the backfield to help keep the Memphis defense guessing.
Pratt otherwise took care of the football and did his job as Tulane ultimately leaned more on Spears and the running game while playing from ahead. The third-year signal caller finished 20-of-29 for 158 yards and a touchdown, also carrying the ball nine times for 19 yards with the aforementioned 6-yard rushing touchdown.
Defense allows explosive plays in the second half but shined early and late
It was a frustrating second half for Tulane. To its credit, the Memphis offense did settle into a rhythm, turning what was a shutout in the first two quarters into a competitive game. The defense didn’t allow the Tigers to score until Henigan hit Koby Drake for a 7-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.
Linebacker Dorian Williams led the way for the Wave with 12 total tackles (8 solo) with a sack, a tackle for loss, a pass breakup and two quarterback hurries. Williams, a prospect the Senior Bowl, has had its eyes on a pro future. It’s is evident why as he’s consistently been one of Tulane’s best defensive players with his knack for playmaking.
Nick Anderson continued to be solid in coverage as the leader of what’s largely been a stout passing defense this year. The rangy llinebacker registered 11 combined tackles (6 solo), with a pass breakup, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry.
And of course it was Monroe who came up clutch with a memorable takeaway in the final moments of the game that put the hopes of last-ditch Memphis effort to rest.
Tulane (7-1, 4-0 in the AAC) will look to stay atop the league with it faces Tulsa on the road following their bye week on Nov. 5.
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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.