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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Tulane falls to Virginia Tech in Military Bowl without Pratt, Fritz

After a second consecutive American Athletic Conference championship appearance, Tulane University earned a matchup with the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland. Shorthanded, the Green Wave played without star quarterback Michael Pratt, who opted out of the game to declare for the 2024 NFL Draft. Interim head coach Slade Nagle led the Green Wave, temporarily replacing former head coach Willie Fritz — recently hired as head coach for the University of Houston Cougars

Tulane came out strong, with a fumble recovery taken for a touchdown, but Virginia Tech held the Tulane offense in check for much of the game and pulled away late to take a 41-20 victory over the Green Wave.

On paper, the Tulane Green Wave was the better team, with five more wins and a conference championship appearance. At the same time, the Hokies finished fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a .500 record at 6-6. Virginia Tech’s veteran leadership and experience playing in the competitive ACC conference prepared them for this matchup, as ESPN listed the Hokies as 12.5-point favorites to win

Without the Green Wave’s pivotal leaders, Nagle was unable to find a spark from his team, and the team couldn’t find a sustainable rhythm on either side of the ball. 

The environment certainly didn’t favor the Green Wave either, as Hokie fans dominated the stadium. It seemed like Green Wave was playing on Virginia Tech’s campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, rather than neutral territory in Annapolis. Making matters worse, rain poured hard throughout the game, clearly helping a run-first Hokies team rather than Tulane and their young quarterbacks. Coach Nagle’s squad faced a tall task of defeating a talented Virginia Tech team, and while they maintained a dynamic game for three quarters, the Hokies were simply too much in the end.

Without star quarterback Pratt, Tulane started the game alternating between Kai Horton and Justin Ibieta at quarterback. While Horton had been Pratt’s backup quarterback throughout the season, the team wanted to utilize Ibieta’s size and athleticism in such inclement weather conditions. However, Ibieta suffered a leg injury in the second quarter and was carted off the field, ending his day prematurely. 

The loss of Ibieta further deflated the team and forced the team to air out the ball more often with Horton behind center the rest of the way. Horton struggled without his top three wide receivers in action: Chris Brazzell II announced his transfer to the University of Tennessee, while seniors Jha’Quan Jackson and Lawrence Keys III both opted out of the bowl game to prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft. Horton finished 13/20 for 119 yards passing with one rushing touchdown and one fumble. Horton admirably minimized mistakes, but his fumble was one of three total, as the Green Wave struggled to secure the ball in such wet conditions. 

Makhi Hughes finished his spectacular freshman season in a similar fashion, carrying the ball 15 times for 88 yards — a 5.9 yards-per-carry average — in a game where the Virginia Tech defensive line focused on stopping the rush. 

Yulkeith Brown stepped up to finish with five receptions for 63 yards, even with significant missing faces on the Green Wave’s receiving corps. In a game where it was difficult to locate the football and secure the catch, Brown showcased his hands and ability to track the ball in the air. Brown is expected to take on a much larger role for the team next season as the Texas A&M transfer gets more comfortable in New Orleans.

The Tulane defense had been outstanding all season, but on Wednesday, they could not stop a talented Hokie offense from moving the ball. The team’s defensive line, a unit that spent much of this season in opposing teams’ backfields, had trouble doing so against a dynamic Hokies offense that found success on the ground. Virginia Tech dominated the line of scrimmage to secure 362 yards rushing and three total rushing touchdowns. The absence of star defensive lineman Darius Hodges, who opted out of the game to declare for the NFL Draft, was clearly felt on defense as they had no answers for the Hokies’ rushing attack. 

Tulane recorded only four tackles for loss and just one sack, as Virginia Tech quarterback Kyron Drones accumulated 176 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Drones’ dual-threat skillset proved incredibly valuable in wet conditions where getting yards on the ground was crucial. Drones only had 91 yards passing, but he made two timely touchdown passes when the Hokies needed his arm

In a game where they gave up 41 points, the most points allowed by the defense all season, Tulane’s defense showed one bright spot: two turnovers. One of these was a huge fumble recovery by linebacker Tyler Grubbs that he returned for the first touchdown of the day. Grubbs was one of the lone standouts on the Green Wave defense Wednesday and recorded 10 tackles in addition to the fumble recovery for a touchdown. Grubbs made huge plays for the Green Wave all season and will be leaned on even more to help lead new head coach Jon Sumrall’s defense next year. 

Despite a disappointing season closer, the team is headed in the right direction. Sumrall comes from Troy University — where he was 23-4 in two seasons at the helm — to continue building Tulane’s program. He still has plenty of talent on this roster to work with. Next, Tulane must replace starting quarterback Pratt, a decision that could ultimately determine Sumrall’s legacy with the Green Wave.

There is much to be excited for in Uptown, as the Tulane football program comes off their second consecutive season with double-digit wins and an AAC championship appearance. The expectations for this program have never been higher, and with so many new faces expected to be in the fold for the 2024-25 season, there is no better time to be rolling with the Green Wave.


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