Tulane rides defense, big play passing attack to stay unbeaten in AAC

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Tulane-ECU 2022 football
(Photo: Parker Waters)

Tulane received votes last week in the national rankings. While it’s going to take continued success at a high level, the Green Wave are well on their way to building upon the recognition they have received in a bigger way.

Led again by their defense, Tulane notched another victory to move to 5-1 with Saturday’s 24-9 win over ECU. A big-play offense and solid special teams did their parts as well in a rather complete victory.

The Wave has already recorded solid wins over Kansas State and Houston, teams expected to down Tulane by a notable margin ahead of the season. Right now, Wille Fritz’s look like a conference title contender.

Here’s a look into three things we took away from the victory over the Pirates:

1. Defense once again a difference-maker

Tulane has played solid, complementary football in 2022, and that didn’t change Saturday afternoon. The defense put pressure on quarterback Holton Ahlers, who will go down as one of the best signal-callers in ECU history. The Green Wave ramped up the pass rush in the second half. He finished the game 32-of-51 passing for 288 yards with a touchdown and a pair of interceptions, unable to use his scrambling ability to make any notable impact on the ground with 17 rushing yards.

ECU entered Yulman Stadium averaging 35.12 points per game, only be held to a season-low total against a defense that remains one the best secrets in FBS. Tulane had the No. 1 passing defense in the country before kickoff and it showed.

Fritz had a lot of praise for the unit as a whole and particularly the secondary.

“I think they’re really confident,” Fritz said. “They believe in what we’re doing, and they’re tackling well. (ECU has) a good running back… they’ve got some big, physical receivers out there as well. Very potent offense and to hold them to nine points is excellent.”

Larry Brooks and Macon Clark were responsible for the two interceptions off of Ahlers, with Clark finishing as the team’s leading tackler with nine (including eight solo). His takeaway in the second half helped the offense have a chance to capitalize.

“I saw that ball pop up and said I have to get it, it’s mine,” Clark said in the postgame press conference. “I wanted to score, but we got the takeaway, so I was happy. We hadn’t got a pick in like two weeks, so we knew we needed to do that today.”

Brooks had the previous interception in the end zone in the third quarter to snuff out a Pirates scoring threat. Tulane followed with a three-play offensive drive that culminated in a 44-yard touchdown pass from Michael Pratt to Deuce Watts.

ECU was held to just 6-of-16 on third downs and 1-of-3 on fourth downs.

2. Pratt hasn’t skipped a beat

While last week’s game against Houston would have been a big one for Pratt (especially where NFL scouts are concerned), he was forced to sit out due to injury. He looked completely unaffected by it on Saturday.

Pratt finished 27-of-34 for 326 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He bested his single-game career-high for passing yards yet again. In fact, Tulane finished with 350+ passing yards in a single game for the first time since 2018, which was also against ECU.

His gritty play style and ability to make plays with his legs are admirable traits but the storyline of the day was what Pratt accomplished through the air. His final rushing stat line was a modest one as he seemed to slide and throw the ball away far more than he’s done in the past. I am sure coaches were thrilled with that development.

Pratt did his best work through the air with multiple well-timed and placed deep shots like the scoring pass to Watts late int the third quarter. His 46-yard pass to wide receiver Jha’quan Jackson toward the end of the first quarter was also a big play strike that fueled the Wave against an ECU defense hyper-focused on stopping the run.

Fritz was pleased with his performance and saw even more opportunity for long-yardage plays in the game, but it didn’t help that Pratt was sacked five times.

“I think he did well. There are probably a couple (more) he wishes he would have taken a shot at earlier in the game, but he’s got tremendous arm strength,” Fritz explained. “That’s never the issue. It’s all tied in together. There’s a couple times we had some guys deep, open but just didn’t protect very good. You’ve got to have protection, guy’s got to run the right route, ball’s got to be delivered accurately and on time.”

Pratt said he felt he’s gotten better at performing under pressure and that he’s playing faster due to an increased level of mental processing that comes with experience. He has found the timing on his throws is better this year as well.

“We knew they were going to play a lot of Cover 4 and bail out of things. It took playing a lot of quick game and taking what was given on defense… that was a huge emphasis and it opened up the down the field stuff,” Pratt said.

“I think just through the years (I’ve gotten better under pressure. That’s something that comes with confidence, knowing that you’ve got to stand in there and make the throw. You might get hit in the face, but to make the play, you’ve got to stand in there and deliver a good ball.”

3. Solid effort on special teams

ECU made its way down the field several times and certainly had some opportunities to score more than they did before Ahkers began to crumble in the final two quarters under Green Wave pressure.

But the scripts was flipped for the Wave on special teams in agood way. Field goal and PAT attempts by placekicker Owen Daffer hurt the Pirates. He went 1-of-2 on field goals with the attempt on the final drive on the second quarter blocked by Tulane’s Alfred Thomas after a pass breakup by Jarius Monroe on third down.

Daffer’s struggles continued against a Tulane team that played solid in this area as he also had a missed PAT.

On the flip side, Valentino Ambrosio took advantage of his first opportunity as Tulane’s kicker by nailing a 42-yard field goal and all three extra points attempts.

“Tulane’s a good football team,” ECU head coach Mike Houston. “They did a great job of executing. I thought Pratt made the big plays down the field in the passing game. I thought their defense did a good job of bend but don’t break. They played to keep everything underneath them, so hats off to them. They won the ballgame.”

Next week, the Green Wave will head back to the road where they have already scored a pair of upset wins. This time though, Tulane will be favored to improve to 3-0 in AAC play when they face South Florida.

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Crissy Froyd

CCS Columnist

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.

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