Tulane has plenty of bounce in its bounce-back season
NEW ORLEANS – Tulane’s bounce-back season still has plenty of bounce in it.
The Green Wave have bounced back from their 2-10 record in 2021 to have their best season since the undefeated one in 1998.
After a spectacular 59-24 thumping of SMU on Thursday night in Yulman Stadium and in front of an ESPN audience they have won nine games for the first time since that 1998 season, when Tulane went 12-0 and finished No. 7 in the final AP poll.
But there’s more to this bounce-back.
This team opened a lot of eyes when it went on the road and beat Kansas State in Week 3, but came home and lost to Southern Miss.
They knew they were a better team than the Golden Eagles, that they should have beaten them, but they paid the price for not being at their best on a day when the opponent was its best.
They could have had doubts – doubts about whether the win against Kansas State was an accurate barometer or a fluke, doubts about whether reality was setting in and whether low preseason expectations were more accurate than early season performances.
But they had no doubts.
They went back to work. And bounced back.
They went to Houston and played without injured starting quarterback Michael Pratt. They played without primary backup Justin Ibieta for nearly the entire game after he was injured in the first quarter.
They played with third-string quarterback Kai Horton. And they won in overtime, triggering a five-game winning streak during which they entered the AP Top 25.
Then last week they were No. 17 in the CFP rankings for crying out loud – as they played UCF in Yulman Stadium. They were the only team in the American Athletic Conference that had not lost a game in league play.
A victory over the Knights would essentially have created a two-team race for the conference regular-season title with defending champion Cincinnati.
But they lost again.
They got down 10-0 in less than five minutes. They never caught up, though they did fight back repeatedly before losing by a touchdown.
It was sort of Southern Miss 2.0.
Again, they could have had doubts. They could have wondered if they belonged in the AAC championship conversation, let alone the CFP rankings.
But they didn’t.
They went back to work – on a short week, though head coach Willie Fritz mitigated that limitation by using part of the open date at the end of October to focus on SMU.
And the bounced back – again.
They were preparing to face a program that was 7-0 against them in AAC competition, a team that had won three games in a row to get bowl eligible after playing in a bowl the last three seasons.
They were going to face a team that 12 days earlier had scored 77 points against Houston, a team that had a pair of 100-yard rushers in a win against South Florida a week earlier while Tulane was allowing 336 rushing yards to UCF.
Forget UCF. Forget Southern Miss. And now you can forget SMU.
The Green Wave shut down the Mustangs running game.
Pratt threw for three touchdowns and ran for three more scores. Shae Wyatt caught two of the touchdown passes and finished with 104 receiving yards. Tyjae Spears caught the other touchdown pass and ran for two other scores while rushing for 121 yards.
Tulane took the ball away five times and gave it away just once. Lawrence Keys III had kickoff returns of 63 and 55 yards, helping the Wave to win by five touchdowns even while gaining fewer offensive yards than the Mustangs.
We’re about to enter Thanksgiving week and Tulane controls its fate for a conference championship. If it beats No. 25 Cincinnati on the road next Friday – a difficult task, for sure, but one that is not inconsistent with this team’s demonstrated capability – it will play for the conference championship.
Presumably that opportunity would come in a rematch against UCF in Orlando.
There is much that this team can still accomplish in this bounce-back season.
But it must be acknowledged that this season also represents a bounce-back for this program under Fritz, who is the only coach to take Tulane to bowl games in three consecutive seasons (2018-20).
Fritz is now the second-winningest coach in school history (41 and counting), recently passing Chris Scelfo. (Clark Shaughnessy won 59 games.)
And there’s most history within the 2022 team’s grasp as December approaches.
Most college football teams are winding down their seasons.
But Tulane just keeps bouncing along.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s 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. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…