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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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Season finale marks new chapter for Tulane Football

Courtesy of Parker Waters — Tulane Athletics

Amidst a torrential downpour, the Tulane Green Wave watched its chances at a second-straight bowl win wash away against the Virginia Tech Hokies.

The crowd at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was a sea of maroon and orange. Virginia Tech’s significant fanbase traveled a relatively short distance to Annapolis, Maryland. Despite inclement weather, the turnout effectively rendered the Military Bowl a home game for the Hokies.

The Green Wave’s season finale started in eerily similar fashion to the 2023 American Athletic Conference championship game. Tulane’s defense came up big early in the first quarter, as Tyler Grubbs returned a Virginia Tech fumble for a touchdown to draw first blood. Early on, the linemen did a good job applying pressure. However, the same mistakes from last game remained unchanged. Hokies quarterback Kyron Drones torched Tulane on the ground, much like Southern Methodist University Mustangs quarterback Kevin Jennings in December. Drones’ aerial and ground attacks tired out the Green Wave defense.

On the other side of the ball, Tulane was gutted of Michael Pratt, Chris Brazzell II, Jha’Quan Jackson and Prince Pines. These players chose to either opt out of the bowl game or enter the transfer portal. Their absences were certainly felt, as Virginia Tech had almost double the amount of total yardage than Tulane.

Kai Horton and Justin Ibieta rotated under center, trying their best to galvanize the offense, but they seldom saw the end zone. In the second quarter, Ibieta suffered a brutal leg injury, his third affliction in four years at Tulane. His removal from the game forced the Green Wave to run its offense exclusively through Horton. In a contest that featured eight fumbles, Tulane’s offense failed to capitalize on the Hokies’ mistakes.

Courtesy of Parker Waters — Tulane Athletics

However, there was no lack of fight from the Green Wave.  It says a lot when a team loses multiple key pieces and still battles into the fourth quarter of a bowl game. Graduate transfer linebacker Jared Small more than doubled his total tackles from the AAC championship, coming up with nine key takedowns. Yulkeith Brown stepped up big in lieu of Brazzell II’s entrance into the transfer portal, cementing himself as top wide receiver. 

Nothing has come easy for these players. The confirmation from many of the young players on the team that they’ll be returning next year bodes well for the program. Linebacker Jesus Machado, quarterback Horton, running backs Makhi Hughes and Shaadie Clayton-Johnson are just a few of the names who — through partnership with Tulane’s Fear the Wave collective — have committed to returning for next season. The Green Wave appears to be reloading for another run at the conference title in 2025.

It is no secret that Tulane’s program has been marred with uncertainty and rumors in the past month, largely centered around the coaching carousel, high-profile opt outs and transfers. Offensive coordinator Slade Nagle took over as the interim head coach amidst reports that he would follow former head coach Willie Fritz to Houston. A quarterback tandem of Horton and Ibieta took snaps due Pratt’s decision to prepare for the Senior Bowl. This starting lineup was not the same that powered the Green Wave to an AAC championship game.

Despite its bitter ending, the 2023 edition of the Military Bowl capped off an impressive season for Tulane. The team finished with 11 wins, a singular win shy of their 2022-23 tally. Yulman Stadium remained routinely packed and the team’s legitimacy in New Orleans

Courtesy of Parker Waters — Tulane Athletics

soared to previously unseen heights. The chants of “football school” from the student section might actually hold weight in the near future. This final loss doesn’t negate the tremendous strides Tulane has taken towards embracing football. 

During last week’s game, newly hired head coach Jon Sumrall was up in the coaches’ box, presumably chomping at the bit to lead the Green Wave on the field. He had to wait then, but pretty soon this will become his team. A handful of billboards have been spotted in Louisiana encouraging the states’ premier players to stay local and sign with Tulane. Sumrall’s first recruiting class will be a solid indicator for this team’s trajectory, so this new exposure can only help. 

There are plenty of reasons to be hopeful for the Green Wave’s future, so let’s look ahead rather than back.

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