Tulane gets bowl eligible and puts season back on track
NEW ORLEANS – The losing streak is over.
And the bowl streak is on.
Both are of modest length, but significant to Tulane football nonetheless.
The Green Wave had lost just two games in a row, but those losses had put the team in a precarious position in which a potentially historically good season could have become monumentally disappointing.
But Tulane got its season back on track with a 38-26 victory against Tulsa on Saturday at Yulman Stadium.
It wasn’t all that pretty. There were way too many penalties, which has become a recurring issue, a couple of crucial turnovers and a win that could have been a tad easier.
But all’s well that ends well and this one ended with Tulane having claimed bowl eligibility while improving to 6-3 and 3-2 in the American Athletic Conference.
“We just had to keep pushing and keep fighting and we knew we’d get back on the winning side,” nose tackle De’Andre Williams said.
The banner headline is that the Green Wave are bowl eligible in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98 and likely to go bowling in consecutive years for the first time since 1979-80.
That’s a big deal.
But the way this team has evolved in recent weeks is a fairly big deal as well. Finding adversity is not ideal but it’s inevitable in whatever form it takes.
The adversity that Tulane had encountered recently was significant and threatened to get out of hand if Tulane didn’t get a win Saturday.
The Green Wave began the season hoping to become the first Tulane team to win bowl games in back-to-back seasons, though getting to the postseason a year after beating Louisiana-Lafayette for just the fifth bowl victory in school history would be a significant milestone along the way.
Then they bolted from the gate with a 5-1 start, losing only to SEC powerhouse Auburn in a reasonably competitive game, and suddenly becoming bowl eligible seemed a foregone conclusion and the goals seemed in need of significant elevation.
The Green Wave were No. 26 in the AP poll and poised to move up.
Then came the trip to Memphis.
The Green Wave spit the bit.
Turnovers, penalties and bad tackling all took their toll in a 47-17 loss.
It wasn’t just the loss that created concern that a 6-6 record might be the ceiling for this team. It was also the margin of defeat and the fact that Tulane didn’t match the physicality and the intensity of a team bent on taking out the frustrations of a close, controversial loss a week earlier on the opponent at hand.
Then Tulane went back on the road to play Navy, a team that ironically had been beaten handily by Memphis and won its three games since then.
The Green Wave’s task was to bounce back from its loss to Memphis in a fashion similar to how the Midshipmen bounced back from theirs.
But the early parts of the game looked a lot like the Memphis game as Navy rolled to an initial 24-0 lead and a 31-14 halftime edge. It looked like the drop-off against Memphis might be turning into a trend.
Then Tulane fought back. It came from behind three different times and was poised to go to overtime after tying the score with 61 seconds remaining.
But Navy drove into field-goal range and kicked a game-winner as time expired to prevail, 41-38.
“We need to win games like that,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said.
Back-to-back losses put the bowl eligibility into a different light, but the fight the Green Wave showed in coming back suggested a team going through a rough patch, not a team in a free-fall.
The performance against Tulsa would provide more evidence as to whether the Green Wave were turning the season back in the right direction.
They scored the first 10 points of the game before falling behind 13-10. But they rallied to take a 24-16 halftime lead and led the rest of the way.
Fritz, being a coach, kept things in perspective afterward as his team enters an open date.
“We’ve got three really tough ball games at the end of the season with Temple, UCF and SMU,” he said.
The two-week set-back is now in the rear-view mirror and will have vanished by the time Tulane returns to action.
Quarterback Justin McMillan, a senior who transferred from LSU some 14 months ago, put the accomplishment in perspective, as he tends to do.
“I just got here,” McMillan said. “I didn’t understand fully what Tulane has been through in the past two, four, five years ago. It wasn’t good. To know that we’re bowl eligible with three games left I mean, it just shows where we’re heading.”
Presumably they’re heading to another bowl game.
TULANE 38, TULSA 26 – POSTGAME NOTES (27,417 – Attendance)
- With the win over Tulsa, the Green Wave moved to 6-3 on the year and marked the second straight season Tulane has become bowl eligible.
- Tulane has only been bowl eligible in back-to-back seasons three times in program history.
- The Green Wave improved to 5-0 at home.
- The 27,417 fans in attendance was the largest crowd this season and the third-best in Yulman Stadium history.
- Tulane has won seven straight home games, dating back to last season.
- The Green Wave’s current seven-game winning streak is tied for 10th all-time.
- Tulane moved to 11-4 in its last 15 games dating back to last season.
- Tulane moved to 5-11 all-time against Tulsa.
- The Green Wave’s win over Tulsa marked the third straight season Tulane has defeated the Golden Hurricane.
- The Green Wave out-gained Tulsa by a 474-398 count.
- Team captains for today’s game were QB Justin McMillan, OL Christian Montano, DL De’Andre Williams and DL Cameron Sample.
- Sophomore DE Davon Wright carried the New Orleans flag. Redshirt freshman Cameron Carroll carried the American Athletic Conference Power 6 flag.
- Sophomore TE Tyrick James carried the No. 18 flag in honor of Devon Walker.
- With the loss, head coach Willie Fritz fell to 215-98-1 all-time. Fritz owns a 41-24 mark in the month of November.
- The Green Wave offensive starters were QB Justin McMillan, RB Darius Bradwell, TE Tyrick James, WR Jaetavian Toles, WR Darnell Mooney, WR Jalen McCleskey, OL Ben Knutson, OL Keyshawn McLeod, OL Corey Dublin, OL Christian Montano and OL Joey Claybrook.
- Mooney made his 37th consecutive start, while Dublin made his 34th straight start.
- Tulane has now scored points in 30 of 35 quarters this season.
- The Green Wave surpassed 400 yards of total offense for the 24th time since 2016. Tulane owns a 20-4 record in those games.
- Tulane finished the game with 290 rushing yards. The Green Wave have now surpassed 250 yards rushing in seven of its last 11 games.
- The Green Wave have now surpassed 100 yards rushing in 48 straight games.
- McMillan improved to 11-4 all-time as a starter. He has never lost a start at Yulman Stadium.
- McMillan finished the night by going 12-of-16 for 184 yards with one passing touchdown and three rushing scores.
- McMillan has now run and passed for a score for the ninth time in his career. McMillan leads the team with 11 rushing touchdowns on the year.
- McMillan’s 11 rushing touchdowns are the most for a Tulane quarterback in a single season. His rushing touchdown total is tied for fifth all-time among all players.
- McMillan has now rushed and passed for a touchdown in six straight games.
- Junior running back Stephon Huderson finished the night with a career-high 100 yards rushing on just seven carries.
- Mooney extended his consecutive catch streak to 28 games, as he hauled in two receptions for 27 yards.
- The Green Wave defensive starters were DL Patrick Johnson, DL De’Andre Williams, DL Cameron Sample, NT Jeffery Johnson, LB Malik Lawal, LB Lawrence Graham, LB Marvin Moody, CB Jaylon Monroe, S P.J. Hall, S Chase Kuerschen, and CB Thakarius Keyes.
- Sophomore defensive tackle Jeffery Johnson recorded his first career sack.
- Redshirt junior De’Andre Williams tied a single-game career high with 1.5 sacks in the first half.
- Redshirt sophomore Willie Langham returned a fumble for touchdown to give the Green Wave a 24-13 lead late in the first half. Former Green Wave defensive back Roderic Teamer Jr. was the last Tulane player to return a fumble for a touchdown.
- Tulane now has 12 turnovers gained this year (eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries).
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
- Redshirt junior kicker Merek Glover drilled a 31-yard field goal in the first quarter.
- Sophomore Amare Jones finished the game with 54 kickoff return yards and surpassed 1,000 kickoff return yards for his career.
TULANE 38, TULSA 26 – POSTGAME QUOTES
Head Coach Willie Fritz
On the crowd…
“I was really excited about our crowd. I thought we had a good crowd today. I guess it was the third largest crowd they’ve ever had in Yulman Stadium, and they got pretty loud at times. I appreciate everyone who came out. I’ve said it hundreds of times, this is a great stadium. Every seat is a perfect seat. I don’t why anyone wouldn’t come out on a day like today. It was a beautiful day out with two great teams going at it, competing with each other. Thank you for all the fans who came out today, we appreciate you all.”
On the performance overall…
“I thought we started well, particularly offensively, we got down the field and got up, but then we got a little stagnant there towards the end of the first quarter. We ran the ball very effectively. We had 290 yards rushing, which is good against anybody. We only played 62 snaps so there was a little bit of ball control game between the two sides. I thought Justin [McMillan] did a good job other than the one throw in the fourth quarter. He had a good ballgame and managed the game extremely well. We had a big play call when we were fourth and four and Stephon Huderson came out of the back field for 55 yards. A long one. That was a big play for us. Defensively, we bent and broke some, but we didn’t break all the time. We needed to get some stops and we got some big stops which is playing complimentary football.”
On RB Stephon Huderson…
“He’s so low to the ground, he’s got good vision, he’s got jump cuts and he’s a smart football player. A lot of these guys bide their time and he got his opportunity today to carry the ball a little more than normal. I thought he did a very nice job with it. He’s a good blocker also.”
On being bowl eligible…
“It’s big for us. I think the 1979-80 team went to back-to-back bowl games. The 1997-98 teams qualified, but they didn’t go in ’97. We got three really tough ball games at the end of the season with Temple, UCF and SMU. It’s a very competitive league, and I’m glad we’ve got this next week off. We got a bye week next week, which gives us a chance to heal up and devote our time to other things like recruiting and then jump back into it.”
RS Junior Nose Tackle De’Andre Williams
On becoming bowl eligible…
“It feels good, this is one of our goals and we’re happy accomplished it so early, we really are. We’re going to take another week at a time and keep playing.”
On the team’s sacks today…
“I think it was really important, that’s something that went though the week of practice, talking about how we have to get pressure on this quarterback. He’s a great thrower and we had to keep pressure on him the whole game.”
On bouncing back this week after the last two weeks…
“Our mindset was just keep our intensity high, we know we have a great football team and we just knew that the game and ball was going to start rolling. We just had to keep pushing and keep fighting and we knew we’d get back on the winning side.”
Senior Safety P.J. Hall
On Tulane’s forced turnovers…
“I mean it was fun, but it’s always fun going out there and playing with the guys. Whether I’m the one making the plays or someone else is making the plays, I love going out there with them.”
On the review process after Hall’s forced fumble…
“I felt like it was when it happened. To be honest, I couldn’t really tell on the video. When it happened, I knew it came out, I feel like I pulled it out before we hit the ground.”
On the offensive momentum tonight going into the half…
“I think it was real big. Any time you can score on defense, that’s a big play. The offensive momentum can make us feel good as a unit, so any time we score on defense is good.”
Junior Running Back Stephon Huderson
On the team pushing each other to be successful…
“When a running back runs back deep, people think that there’s selfishness but everyone loves to see everyone succeed. So when I’m doing good they lift me up, and when I don’t they have to lift me higher. We’re all one big family.”
On setting the tone with his 55 yard run…
“Justin had a great pass, big love, and he turned and reversed it to me and then the o-line did a great job, the backs flowed to the left and it was just open, a big hole. And then the run, a long run.”
Graduate Quarterback Justin McMillan
On becoming bowl eligible at this point in the season…
“To this team, it means a lot. Just to know the strives we made and talking to people like P.J. [Hall], I just got here, I didn’t understand fully what Tulane has been through in the past two, four, five years ago. It wasn’t good. To know that we’re bowl eligible with three games left I mean, it just shows where we’re heading. The leaders on this team, you know we’ve stepped up a lot. Young guys on the team have stepped up a lot as far as taking the leadership that has been passed down. Coach Fritz is trying to build a program here, you know, and we’re working hard doing it. We’re playing for this city, there’s a lot going on in this city right now and we just have to give them hope in this football team here and just play our hearts out.”
On bouncing back from his interception…
“Don’t throw another pick. It’s a game, it’s four quarters. Throw a pick, throw a touchdown, I mean I’ll be excited or I’ll be mad, but within those next ten seconds I’ll be back to normal. You see I get really excited on touchdowns and what not, but believe it or not I’m back in it within a matter of seconds. You gotta take the good with the bad and understand that the quarterback with the ball in their hands every play, you can’t be up and down for the most part. The offensive guys look at me after a pick just like you would, you throw a pick they look for my reaction. If I react bad, it’ll slow down the momentum of the team. These guys next to me held me down, gave me another chance and opportunity and I just had to do what I had to do.”
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…