Tulane handles ranking, stage, big home crowd in fine fashion to down Memphis
The stage was set.
With beautiful weather, a worthy conference opponent, a national audience and a full house on hand, Tulane stepped on to a huge stage with the bright lights of the nation and a searing sun overseeing Yulman Stadium.
How would the Green Wave fare under the bright lights? The answer came early, in decisive fashion.
The kicking game has often not been good to Tulane in recent years. It was a massive success Saturday afternoon. In fact, it served perhaps the greatest purpose in the Green Wave’s kicking of Memphis to the curb in a 38-28 victory at Yulman Stadium.
That was obvious, watching the game replay.
Before a record crowd of 30,100 at Yulman Stadium, Tulane came out stoked up. The first sellout since the stadium-opening game against Georgia Tech in 2014 seemed to fuel the Green Wave to new heights early in the contest.
Tulane drove 80 yards in 11 plays and Michael Pratt scored on a 6-yard run to give Tulane a 7-0 lead.
Then came the special teams which proved special. Jha’Quan Jackson returned a punt 90 yards for a score to make it 14-0.
Then, the Tigers muffed a Green Wave punt at the Memphis 12-yard line and Tulane took full advantage with Tyjae Spears scoring on a run to make it 21-0 first quarter lead before fans could even get settled in their seats, brought to their feet by the incredible start by the home team.
The first quarter explosion is nothing new for the 2022 Green Wave.
A fast-starting team, Tulane has used that phenomenon as a springboard to its wins this season as the Green Wave have outscored opponent 62-10 in the first quarter.
The avalanche buried the Tigers in the second quarter as Tulane drove 70 yards in 10 plays with Shadadie Clayton scoring on a 4-yard run to make it 28-0 before Tulane went 53 yards in 10 plays with Pratt hitting Deuce Watts on a perfectly thrown, back-shoulder 6-yard touchdown pass and it looked like a blowout at 35-0 at halftime.
How dominant was Tulane in the half?
The Green Wave outgained Memphis 248-84 and were plus three in the turnover department.
It was as near to perfection as Willie Fritz could possibly have conceived of in all phases in the first half.
It was not likely to continue and it did not.
Memphis awakened, showed its offensive prowess and personal pride by taking the fight to Tulane in the second half.
Memphis outgained Memphis 148-13 in the third quarter and the Tigers cut the deficit to 35-21 early in the fourth quarter.
The concern was real as Memphis entered the game leading the FBS in fourth quarter points with 106.
The Tigers lived up to that lofty stature, scoring 14 more against the Green Wave but it would not be enough.
At that point, Tulane badly needed a drive and got it.
More importantly, the Green Wave got points on a 25-yard field goal by Valentino Ambrosio to make it a three-possession game at 38-21 with 7:40 to play in the game.
The Tigers scored again on a 55-yard pass from Seth Henigan to Eddie Lewis to pull within 38-28 and got the ball back but took too long to reach the Tulane 6-yard line and Henigan was picked off by Jarius Monroe to seal the deal.
The second half was more about Memphis raising the level of its play as opposed to Tulane playing poorly.
The Tigers exploded for 331 yards in the second half while Tulane had just 96 yards in the final two quarters.
Spears, who should have an NFL future, was a star again, rushing 24 times for 125 yards.
It is no surprise.
Having covered Spears in high school at Ponchatoula, he was an electric player with legendary coach Hank Tierney stating that he was perhaps the best back he has ever coached in his stellar coaching career spanning five decades.
Pratt was efficient.
He did not throw for 300 yards as he had in the previous two wins but he was accurate and took care of the football, completing 20 of 29 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown and rushing nine times for 19 yards and a score.
Dorian Williams and Nick Anderson continued their excellent seasons.
They were menacing presences on the defensive side all afternoon as Williams had 12 tackles, including one for loss and had a pass defended. Anderson had 11 tackles, including one for loss and has a pass defended.
Larry Brooks had an interception and Tylo Phillips recovered a fumble for the Green Wave.
All three phases contributed to the victory.
After Tulane shocked the college football world with a win at Kansas State, the Green Wave had a letdown at home against Southern Miss, letting a first half lead get away in a 27-24 loss.
The script seemed a little bit, even eerily similar Saturday as Memphis stormed back but the Green Wave lead proved to be insurmountable this time around and the maturity and ability of Tulane would prevail.
Tulane has now won three straight at home against Memphis.
Now 7-1 and 4-0 in American Conference play, Tulane is on top of the American Athletic Conference by a half game over Cincinnati and will enjoy a week off to heal up before a trip to Tulsa.
Tulsa is 3-4 and 1-2 overall after a 27-16 win over Temple.
Tulsa first hosts SMU next Saturday.
Tulane has the last two matchups with the Golden Hurricane, falling 20-13 last year in New Orleans after an excruciating 30-24 overtime loss at Chapman Stadium in 2020.
Most notable on the day was the crowd.
It was a pleasure, a joy to see the stands full and to see people genuinely excited about watching a nationally ranked team play like it.
Fritz, his coaches and players deserve that kind of support.
It went to my first Tulane game at Tulane Stadium in 1964.
It became a regular occurrence, regularly sitting on the west wide of the venerable, lovable facility.
There were crowds in those days, even though winning was a bit elusive.
The New Orleans Saints, the New Orleans Jazz and the New Orleans Zephyrs arrived.
Then, there were other entities such as the New Orleans Night, the New Orleans VooDoo and the New Orleans Brass to share the sports buy in the marketplace.
Having the pleasure of doing Tulane games, on and off for television over a 15-year span was a pleasure and there were occasional decent to solid crowds but interest began to wane a bit.
The oldest axiom in sports is to win and you will come.
The New Orleans Pelicans are winning (2-0) and will have a full house at Smoothie King Center tonight in their home opener against Utah.
The New Orleans Saints won a Super Bowl, won several division titles, reached three NFC title games and regularly fill the Caesars Superdome.
LSU has won three national championships under three different coaches since 2003 and has 90,000 or more fans regularly at Tiger Stadium.
Tulane is winning. Fans are coming to see them.
Hopefully, both trends continue.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…