Tulane earns bowl eligibility, national ranking with USF win

Mark Keplinger, Sports Editor

Tulane football entered the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in 24 years after dominating the South Florida Bulls 45-31 in Tampa, Florida. The highly entertaining offensive shootout was played at a hectic pace with both sides trading blows with each other on consecutive drives. With the win, Tulane becomes the first team in the American Athletic Conference to become bowl eligible. Head coach Willie Fritz has moved to second in all-time wins in Tulane history with 37, tying him with Chris Scelfo.

Tulane was not their usual sharp selves against USF, especially in the first half. In the early drives, Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt missed several throws he normally completes. Green Wave receivers had several uncharacteristic drops, and the defense, one of the best in the nation, allowed multiple big plays. The offensive line allowed Pratt to be sacked four times. 

“We didn’t play clean the whole ball game … [but] I thought we ran the ball and threw the ball well. That hadn’t been the case, really, a whole bunch this season where we have done both of them well,” Fritz said after the game. 

Initially, the Green Wave looked to have a fast start to the game. Pratt engineered a long drive which led to a 20-yard field goal by Valentino Ambrosio. USF immediately fumbled on their next drive, allowing Tulane defensive back Jadon Canady to recover. However, Tulane failed to do anything with the ball, and Ambrosio missed a 31-yard field goal attempt.

Bulls quarterback Gerry Bohanon immediately drove 79 yards in eight plays capping off the drive by finding a wide open Jimmy Horn Jr. in the endzone for an eight-yard score. Pratt responded with his own 75-yard, nine play drive which was capped off by a five-yard touchdown run from the quarterback. 

Bohanon continued to give Tulane’s defense problems as it took just four plays for the Bulls to find the endzone. Two plays after Bohanon found Horn for a 25-yard pick up, Bohanon ran past the Green Wave defense for a 33-yard touchdown run. 

With the Bulls up 14-10, USF suffered a massive blow when Bohanon was injured on a scramble and ruled out for the rest of the game. 

Right before the end of the half, Tulane was able to march all the way to the USF four yard line. On third and goal, Shae Wyatt dropped a wide open touchdown pass. On fourth and goal, Pratt threw a jump ball up to Duece Watts who was in single coverage. Watts was able to out leap his defender and snatch the ball in the air for the touchdown, giving the Green Wave a narrow 17-14 lead going into the break.

After the break, Tulane cleaned up the majority of their mistakes, which resulted in an offensive explosion from the visitors in a frantic second half. The third quarter started with a long drive from the Green Wave, but resulted in a turnover on downs at the Bulls 20 yard line.

Later in the quarter, the Bulls were able to get to the Tulane one yard line, however a goal line stand, which included a pass break up from Jarius Monroe, forced the Bulls to settle for a field goal.

The next four plays proved to be the turning point in the game. First, Tulane running back Tyjae Spears broke loose for a 75-yard touchdown run. Two plays later, Bulls backup quarterback Katravis Marsh immediately fumbled on an attempted read option. Spears then rushed in from six yards out, giving the visitors a 31-17 lead.

Talking about his 75-yard touchdown, Spears said, “It felt good. It was kinda stressful; I thought I was gonna get caught. But it felt good … My O-Line and my tight ends, they did a good job, the receivers did a good job of running everybody off and it was just wide open.”

USF responded to the quick shift in momentum with a big play on defense. A Bulls defender got a strip sack when he went unblocked and delivered a massive blindside shot to Pratt. USF recovered the fumble and scored two plays later when Marsh found Xavier Weaver for a 17-yard touchdown pass.

However, Tulane’s offensive prowess continued in the fourth quarter and was able to put the game out of reach for the hosts. Pratt opened the quarter by quickly driving down the field and finding Dea Dea McDougle in the endzone. On Tulane’s next drive, Pratt, again, engineered a touchdown drive. This time, the quarterback snuck in from a yard out. USF would score once more right at the end of the game to make the final score 45-31 Tulane. 

Despite not playing a clean 60 minutes of football, Tulane found a way to not only win, but dominate. This is a testament to how talented the Green Wave are and the fact that they can rely on their playmakers to come up in big situations. The in-game adjustments the coaching staff made not only demonstrates the ability of coaches to recognize problems but also of the team to be able to implement those changes.

The Green Wave will next host the Memphis Tigers at Yulman Stadium on Oct. 22 as part of Homecoming Weekend. The Tigers are 4-3 but lost their last two games in a heartbreaking fashion. Kick-off will be at 2:30 p.m., and the game will also be broadcast on ESPN2.