Tulane hasn’t enjoyed the greatest recent football history, but the program was showing some progression under coach Willie Fritz until last year’s 2-10 record.
Before that, Tulane had made three straight bowl appearances under Fritz, never winning more than seven games. However, before the 7-6 season in 2018 that began the trio of bowl bids, the Green Wave had one winning record in the previous 15 years.
So on the heels of last year’s disappointing season, the expectations this year weren’t extremely high, at least from the outside world.
Tulane was picked seventh in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll.
We’re not suggesting that Tulane will contend in the AAC, but it’s very possible the Green Wave will surpass the modest preseason expectations.
Last week, Tulane improved to 4-1 overall and 1-0 in the AAC with a 27-24 overtime win at Houston that was engineered by its third-string quarterback. Houston was the preseason pick to win the AAC.
Not to take anything away from Tulane, but Houston (2-3, 0-1) has been a major disappointment. That said, it was a huge win for Tulane and especially for redshirt freshman quarterback Kai Horton, the third-stringer turned hero.
Horton had attempted just one pass in his college career and likely wasn’t expecting to add 21 more attempts against Houston. He got his chance because first-stringer Michael Pratt, a junior who is a third-year starter, was unavailable due to an undisclosed injury. Second-stringer Justin Ibieta departed after the game’s first series due to injury.
So Horton completed 11 of 21 passes for 132 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Here is the game-winning 10-yard TD pass to Tyjae Spears in overtime.
Who knows what the quarterback situation will be like in the immediate future, but Tulane, which has already doubled last year’s win total, is obviously riding a good wave, so to speak.
The Green Wave also own an impressive 17-10 win over a Kansas State team that beat Oklahoma, 41-34. This past week the Sooners got pasted by TCU, 55-24.
Editor’s Note: Oklahoma appears on the same path as Houston – having been overrated in the preseason. Like Houston, beating Oklahoma still counts for something.
The one Tulane loss, a 27-24 home setback to Southern Mississippi (2-2) wasn’t a good defeat, as if any are really good. Tulane outgained the Golden Eagles, 451 to 253, but the Green Wave had a field goal blocked and also had an interception returned for a touchdown. In addition, Pratt was sacked four times.
While Tulane’s offense hasn’t been steamrolling opponents, its defense has. The Green Wave are allowing 14.2 points per game. That ranks second in the AAC and 11th nationally.
Against Houston, linebacker Nick Anderson had 14 tackles and one forced fumble.
So the defense should keep the Green Wave in many games. And that defense along with Tulane’s resolve will be tested on Saturday when Tulane hosts East Carolina (3-2, 1-1)
This is an East Carolina team that should have beaten North Carolina State, losing that opener 21-20. The Pirates lost their opening AAC game, 23-20 in double overtime to visiting Navy. Last week, ECU beat a South Florida team considered among the weakest in the AAC, 48-28, with receiver C.J. Johnson totaling seven receptions for 197 yards and four touchdowns.
Fifth-year ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers has thrown 15 touchdowns compared to three interceptions, so he will test Tulane.
This should be an extremely close game. The early BetMGM line has Tulane as a 3.5-point favorite.
Last year, ECU beat Tulane 52-29. We’re guessing this will be a much lower score this year.
If Tulane beats ECU, then the Green Wave could become bowl eligible with a win the following week at South Florida. That’s important because the end-of-the-year schedule is a killer for Tulane – Memphis, at Tulsa, UCF, SMU, and finally at Cincinnati.
Tulane is obviously not last year’s team, and Saturday’s game with ECU should be a good barometer of how improved the Green Wave actually are.