Tulane vs Louisiana :There’s one part of the Tulane bowl experience that will be like some of the other games the Green Wave have played away from home.
On Friday, the team will have a walkthrough at Camping World Stadium.
This is something relatively new for Tulane in its third season with Willie Fritz as coach. In the first two seasons, Tulane typically did not have a walkthrough while on the road. But, tired of losing away from home, that changed this season.
The first such walkthrough took place before the Oct. 27 game at Tulsa. Tulane won that game, and that began a stretch of four wins in five games that clinched a bowl berth and ultimately sent the Green Wave to face Louisiana-Lafayette in the Cure Bowl.
So, the walkthrough this time will occur Friday. Kickoff is 12:30 p.m. Central time Saturday on CBS Sports Network.
Once game-time comes, there will be some key things to watch for. Here are three of them:
1. Can Tulane slow Louisiana-Lafayette’s rushing attack?
The Ragin’ Cajuns have three running backs that combine to average more than 216 rushing yards per game this season. Tops among them is former Shaw standout Trey Ragas, a hard-charging sophomore with 1,141 and eight rushing touchdowns.
ULL coach Billy Napier credited those running backs Thursday for their unselfish play.
“No jealousy,” he said in reference to Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais.
When one player has a big game, the other two are happy for him.
Having more than one capable back could be the biggest challenge for the Tulane defense. The Green Wave rank second in the American Athletic Conference against the run, with the best run-stopping ability coming in conference play.
Linebacker Zachery Harris is a Holy Cross product who leads the team in tackles with 87 and is second in tackles for loss with 10.5. Patrick Johnson is the team’s top pass rusher with 10 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss.
“That’s a game that a defense like ours looks forward to and loves to play,” Harris said. “We like the physicality of our run defense and stopping the run.”
2. Will the offense pick up the pace?
Tulane made a somewhat unexpected move by changing offensive coordinators immediately after the regular season.
With new coordinator Will Hall in place of the dismissed Doug Ruse, Fritz said he wanted to see his offense have an ability to play with a quicker pace.
The team worked in recent practices on using shorter play calls so they play with a faster tempo. This won’t be something the Green Wave does on an every-play basis against ULL, but it will be something to watch for.
Hall will not call plays against ULL. That duty goes to offensive line coach and run-game coordinator Alex Atkins. Hall will be on the sideline coaching, however. In the spring, he’ll more fully implement the quicker paced offense like what he ran during his 14 seasons of play-calling experience.
The Green Wave otherwise has clicked with former LSU quarterback Justin McMillan as the starter. Tulane has won four of the five games with him in the starting position. He’s not the only reason for the team’s success. Running backs Darius Bradwell and Cory Dauphine also have shared the load out of the backfield.
Also, wideout Darnell Mooney has been good for a handful of big plays, scoring on multiple slant patterns that turn into big gains when opposing defenses put a focus on stopping the run.
3. Which team can stay on a roll?
Tulane is not the only team here to have a strong finish. ULL won the last three regular season games to reach the inaugural Sun Belt championship game.
The Cajuns had a similar start to Tulane with a 1-3 record that included lopsided losses at Mississippi State and Alabama. They since turned around their season, losing only against conference front-runners Appalachian State and Troy.
Napier is a first-year head coach at ULL. He spent four seasons at Alabama coaching wide receivers before the 2017 season at Arizona State as offensive coordinator.
He spoke Thursday about his team’s ability to stay focused on getting better through the course of the season. That’s something Tulane certainly did after its 2-5 start that included a loss at Ohio State and three other losses in games where the Green Wave had the ball in the fourth quarter with a lead or while tied.
With nine fifth-year seniors who spent their entire college careers at Tulane, this first-time bowl experience will be sweeter for them if it ends with a win.