Tulane and UConn have had some very special meetings on the football field.
The legendary series includes the 7-3 Husky triumph where a Jamar Summers interception return scored the game-winning points for win no. 5 of what would be a surprising bowl season under Bob Diaco.
The most recent meeting was the 38-13 drubbing by Tulane in what would be Diaco’s final game as head coach. With Randy Edsall in place as Diaco’s replacement, #TheProcess has taken a slow and steady approach that is still looking a few years away from being ready for the show.
Tulane, on the other hand, has steadily improved its win total in each year under head coach Willie Fritz, who took over in 2016. This year, expectations are as high as ever after a seven-win season and the school’s first bowl victory since 2002. The UConn Huskies will be visiting Tulane for the final time as members of the American Athletic Conference on Saturday, October 14th at Yulman Stadium.
2018 in Review
In 2017, Tulane played in seven one-score games, winning three and coming tantalizingly close against SMU, Cincinnati, and Navy only to fall short. But anyone around the program could sense something good was brewing.
In 2018, they shook off a rough start to win four out of five to close out the regular season after making a change at quarterback. They absolutely beat up South Florida, 41-15, and eeked past Navy in the season finale to clinch a share of the highly competitive AAC West’s division title along with a bowl berth.
Justin McMillan took over the starting quarterback job from Jonathan Banks, who was the previous year’s starter. McMillan was more productive and efficient than Banks, throwing for 372 yards and three touchdowns against East Carolina and tossing 291 yards and another three TDs in that big win over Navy.
He shared the backfield with running backs Darius Bradwell and Corey Dauphine, who both enjoyed breakout campaigns. Bradwell ran for 11 touchdowns and over 1100 yards while Dauphine had 785 yards and seven touchdowns. Darnell Mooney led the team’s receivers with 993 yards and eight touchdown catches, including two big games to end the season. McMillan, Bradwell, Dauphine, and Mooney are all back in 2019.
Defensively, Tulane ranked 65th in the country in S&P+ efficiency. Defensive end Patrick Johnson led the team in sacks and tackles for loss as a sophomore. The Green Wave defense had experience and talent on all three levels, including linebacker Zachery Harris and defensive backs Roderic Teamer and Donnie Lewis, a 7th-round NFL Draft pick.
Last year’s seniors were particularly helpful on defense. This year, Teamer, Lewis, and Harris are gone but Johnson returns along with a disruptive and experienced group in the defensive front seven including Lawrence Graham and Cameron Sample. This could be a better defense in 2019 if the secondary can survive the loss of all those experienced DBs.
With so much skill-position talent returning offensively, the area of concern is up front, where last year’s line struggled in both the running game and passing game. Bill Connelly wrote that “Tulane’s run game was dangerous but unreliable,” noting that they were 96th in the country in rushing marginal efficiency despite Bradwell and Dauphine’s gaudy numbers.
Anything less than seven wins would be tough for Tulane fans to swallow, but the Green Wave will again face heavy competition in the AAC West in addition to a non-conference slate that includes a frisky FIU, very-good Army, and ranked Auburn. That said, the offense should be slightly better and if the defense can stay at the same caliber, that should make a difference in the win column for Tulane.
Matchup Against UConn
The 2019 meeting of this intense AAC rivalry is more likely to resemble the 2016 blowout than the 2015 abomination that UConn somehow won. Tulane is much more experienced across the board and will have no trouble moving the ball with its run-first attack against UConn’s porous defense. On the other side of the ball, the Green Wave defense will have a decided edge over the Husky offense. S&P+ predicts a 20-point margin of victory and 88 percent chance of a Tulane win.
But hey, New Orleans is fun right? This would be one of the few AAC road destinations ever worth making a visit to, so maybe it’s worth a shot if you’re a fan looking to hit up a football game this year.
Prediction: Tulane 31, UConn 13