Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Getting To Know The Tulane Green Wave
Tulane football has had a revival under head coach Willie Fritz. We talked with Fear the Wave Blog to learn more.
What does Nevada need to know about its AAC foe?
The Nevada Wolf Pack will help to kick off the early part of bowl season next Tuesday when they face off with the Tulane Green Wave in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
It’s been a little while since these two teams linked up — the lone previous meeting was way back in 1992 — so to catch up on everything we wanted to know about the Green Wave, we reached out to JP Gooderham from Fear The Wave Blog, which you can follow on Twitter and subscribe to on Substack.
Mountain West Wire: The Green Wave have experienced something of a mini-renaissance under head coach Willie Fritz, stringing together three straight winning campaigns for the first time since the early 1980s. Considering the circumstances in which college football exists this fall, however, how does the 6-5 record line up (or not) with what was expected in year five of Fritz’s tenure?
JP Gooderham: Expectations. What a strange thing for 2020, right? I think on one level, Tulane managed to get 11 games in. The Football program, Tulane Medical folks, and the rest of the team involved with keeping the Green Wave healthy did a really impressive job, as Tulane managed to get its full slate of scheduled games in. You have to be pretty grateful for that.
In terms of the on-field performance, this was another year that had its ups and downs. After two straight winning seasons that ended in bowl victories, Coach Willie Fritz and his staff have been angling for a season that takes the program from “good to great.” While that didn’t happen this year (in the sense that the Wave did not contend for the conference), I think our fans can be excited about a few things: Tulane won four of its last five (with the lone loss coming in OT on the road to a ranked Tulsa), and the emergence of freshman QB Michael Pratt has a lot of folks excited for the future.
The view from 30,000 feet is this: Tulane is sustaining a solid program for the first time in the modern era. Full stop. You have to credit Fritz and his staff for making that happen. Now, the question will be how and when Tulane can make its move to the top of the league.
MWW: Who knew that Tulane could get after the quarterback like they have this fall? How did the Green Wave develop such a strong pass rush and who’s the biggest Dom Peterson-type that could affect Nevada’s offensive plans?
JG: This has been the standout story of the year for the Tulane Defense. The defensive line has some serious dudes. Cam Sample was ranked by PFF as the most valuable Defensive Lineman in college football. Sample is a big, destructive player who probably projects the most for an NFL career on this Green Wave defense. But that’s not all. You also have Patrick Johnson who has set the Tulane career record in sacks and holds the #3 and #4 best Tulane years ever for single season sacks.
While Tulane has had some questions in our ability to defend the pass in the secondary, the Green Wave defense is at its best if the Defensive Line can dominate the line of scrimmage and make it a tough day at the office for a quarterback.
MWW: Tulane also seems to have found their own Carson Strong in freshman Michael Pratt. What strengths does he possess at the helm of Fritz’s offense?
JG: Pratt is a true freshman QB who took the reins several games in against Southern Miss. The Tulane offense had struggled up to that point (including a shocking loss to Navy where Tulane led 24-0 at the half and then didn’t score another point to lose 27-24 on a last second field goal). In that game against Southern Miss, Tulane posted 66 points — the most any opposing team had scored on the Mustard Buzzards in their stadium’s history.
It’s undeniable that Pratt is one of the breakout stories for Tulane this season. As a true freshman, his future feels really bright after he posted 18 touchdowns to 5 interceptions through the air. Tulane has always maintained a strong running game in the Fritz era, but his arm now makes the play action much more threatening where he can punish a defense.
MWW: Another thing that jumps out to me is that the Green Wave running game has looked particularly strong on the stat sheet despite what looks like a committee approach. Who would you credit for that ability to do well what Tulane wants to do most often?
JG: I think Tulane has a really solid group of running backs to work with. They lost freshman Tyjae Spears, who looked to be the lead guy early in the year, but Cam Carroll, Stephon Huderson, and Amare Jones all bring unique skill sets that give the Greenies a lot of different looks. Notably, Jones announced that he will enter the transfer portal so this will be a unique game for the offense. Huderson is an undersized but shifty runner while Carroll will bring the ground and pound ability, especially in short yardage situations and along the goal line.
MWW: Nevada’s Air Raid offense has put up a lot of yards and points throughout the fall, so how well has Tulane’s pass defense held up in a conference flush with strong quarterback play overall? Who’s been the biggest difference maker in the Green Wave secondary?
JG: This will be a test, for sure. The teams that have scorched Tulane have been those that established the pass early and often, especially Houston and UCF who both had strong quarterbacks this year. On the flip side, Tulane was able to limit the effectiveness of Brady White at Memphis by bringing the heat on defense and avoiding coverage busts in the secondary.
We do have a couple linebackers who have done a nice job in pass coverage (Nick Anderson and Dorian Williams) but since you asked, I’d single out Larry Brooks who leads the team with nine pass breakups this year.
MWW: Lastly, how do you see this Famous Idaho Potato Bowl matchup unfolding between Tulane and Nevada?
JG: The Vegas gamblin’ line on this is Tulane -3.5 at the time of writing. ESPN’s SP+ ranks the Tulane offense as #31 in CFB against a Nevada D that ranks #66. I’ll circle that as the matchup I care the most about with the perspective that Tulane will not have offensive coordinator Will Hall (who was named Head Coach at Southern Miss).
I think for the game to go Nevada’s way, they need to strike early and often through the air and force the Wave’s secondary to have a bad day at the office. Maybe this is bullish with Tulane having changes at OC and Defensive Coordinator, but I’ll take Tulane 35, Nevada 24 in this one.