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OXFORD, Miss. — So far, there has been a lot of reason for Ole Miss fans to be excited. The team took care of business in both week one and week two, and a lot of the questions heading into the season have begun to sort themselves out. Ole Miss sits at 17th in the latest AP Poll, the highest-ranking the program has seen since 2016.
The wins against Louisville and Austin Peay were expected — but the execution on both sides of the football is what really has gotten the attention of the AP voters. Despite some early adversity, the Rebels haven’t missed a beat.
On an individual note, last week Matt Corral tossed for 281 yards and threw five touchdowns against Austin Peay. The performance was good enough for him to be named the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week.
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) September 12, 2021
Corral has also become a favorite in the Heisman, surpassing passing names like Spencer Rattler, Sam Howell, and C.J. Stroud. He has now thrown for a touchdown in fourteen consecutive games. That is the third-best in Ole Miss history behind Eli Manning (16) and Chad Kelly (22).
Dontario Drummond continued his impressive streak of catching a touchdown pass in his seventh consecutive game. On the defensive end, Sam Williams had a huge week, notching two sacks and forcing two fumbles — one of which he returned for a touchdown.
Ole Miss edge rusher Sam Williams with the strip sack and picks up the ball and returns it for a TD. Nothing super special about the rush just commits to speed and rips through the OT’s arms flashes a little ankle flexion. pic.twitter.com/uqswQEuo7K
— Tyler Browning (@DiabeticTyler) September 15, 2021
This coming week will be no slouch as Tulane is coming into Oxford for a highly anticipated matchup.
The Green Wave will come to town with a 1-1 record following their 69-20 win over Morgan State. In Week One in a crazy situation, they saw themselves traveling to Norman, OK for what was supposed to be a major home contest for Tulane. The crazy part is despite a quick turnaround and losing four fumbles, Tulane still had a chance to win late in the fourth. They were 31-point underdogs, but lost to the No. 3 Sooners, 35-40.
TULANE AIN’T SCARED. The Green Wave going toe-to-toe with OU early 😤
Jet sweep TD gives them the lead!
— 247Sports (@247Sports) September 4, 2021
Last season, Tulane finished 6-6 after a bowl loss to Nevada. They bring back a very good amount of their offense and have a couple of incoming guys on the defensive end who are ready to take things to the next level.
Willie Fritz is the leader of the Green Wave, and he has had growing success since taking over in New Orleans. The staple of a Fritz team is its work ethic paired with a dedication to running the football. Tulane has averaged over 210 rushing yards per game since Coach Fritz’ arrival. Their game is rooted in the zone running scheme where their offensive line has excelled in the past couple of seasons.
Tulane did lose its offensive coordinator from the 2020 season, as Will Hall accepted the head coaching position down at Southern Miss. Fritz didn’t look far for a replacement as they brought in Hall’s good friend Chip Long to take over the position. Long was an analyst at Tennessee this past season, but before that he had stops as the offensive coordinator at both Notre Dame and Memphis, working with both Brady White and Ian Book while there.
You’re going to see a lot of runs; it’s the backbone of the Tulane offense. That rushing offense was good enough for 16th in the nation last year. They return four offensive linemen (10 starters all together on offense) as well as lead back Cameron Carroll. If all goes as planned, you’ll see the Green Wave lead the AAC in rushing again.
When Tulane does pass, expect a lot of motion and movement from playmakers on passes. The goal is to use that movement to cause miscommunications leading to easy reads for quarterback Michael Pratt. This will be in the form of going in motion, fake sweeps, RPOs, and play action.
Their offense has been really aggressive in the first two weeks this season. The motion is designed to create easy routes for players slipping out of the backfield. They use mesh concepts for this purpose as well.
“They run what they have really well. They are fairly multiple, they have a wide variety of offense. They hit you with a lot of volume. I think they are a talented team that plays really hard, we saw that both week one and week two. It’s definitely something we have to be ready for.”
Ole Miss linebacker Chance Campbell on Tulane’s offense
Sophomore Michael Pratt is the starter at QB for the Tulane Green Wave. He started ten games last year as a freshman while posting an impressive 20:8 touchdown to interception ratio.
At 6-foot-2 inches, 200 pounds, he was recruited as a pro-style quarterback, but while he may not be as athletic as a Malik Cunningham or our own Matt Corral, Pratt can still move a bit. He sneakily had eight TDs on the ground last year. Last year, he was the only American Conference Player named to the 247 Freshman All-American Team.
AAC QB Spotlight: Tulane QB Michael Pratt @FearTheWaveBlog
*Audio on if interested
*One of the best young QB's in CFB Last Year
*Ability to use legs as well as push the ball downfield
Expect a good 2021 during his second year starting. Any thoughts are welcome pic.twitter.com/21Jj1M4nm4
— QB Spotlight (@QBspotlight) June 21, 2021
One really interesting focus is found with Pratt and new offensive coordinator Chip Long. While at Notre Dame, it was said that Long really pushed for Ian Book to be the starter. Long has a no-nonsense approach that could yield dividends on how Pratt progresses through his career.
Pratt excels at throwing the short to intermediate routes. While he does have plenty of returning weapons to throw to, the Rebels should look into pressuring him early and often. While he has been pretty good and hasn’t thrown an interception yet, there is still a problem with him losing the ball. Against Oklahoma, Pratt committed three fumbles that resulted in Oklahoma getting the ball in good field position.
Justin Ibieta is the primary backup for Tulane. He was said to have a good fall camp alongside Pratt and will come in confidently if anything happens to the starter.
The Green Wave lost a good chunk of production from last year’s game following the departures of Stephon Huderson and Amare Jones. However, they do return the bruiser that is Cameron Carroll. A 6-foot, 230-pound back, Carroll has overtaken lead back duties this season and is a threat both in the running and passing game. Last season Carroll rushed for 741 yards while averaging 6.1 yards per rush.
#Tulane's Cameron Carroll is one of 86 players on the watch list for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation's top running back. Carroll rushed for 741 yards and a team-high 12 TDs last season. He is one of six AAC running backs on the list.
— Guerry Smith (@Guersmith) July 21, 2021
Carroll, a Flowood, Miss. (Northwest Rankin HS) native, was rumored to have a timed 40 in the low 4.4s at Tulane and has had a few breakaway touchdown rushes. His mantra is that he won’t shy away from contact. Ole Miss needs to find a way to plug up lanes and make him try to be more patient before he gets downhill.
The complement to Carroll is Tyjae Sharp. He is still working his way back from an injury suffered last season, but when healthy he averaged 7.4 yards per carry. A smaller back, Sharp is very athletic and shifty, and he will also be featured in the slot. On the athletics website, Sharp is listed as a member of the track team, along with Carroll.
A couple of names to keep an eye out for on Saturday are Iverson Celestine and Ygenio Booker. Celestine is a true freshman who impressed during camp and got his first real reps against Morgan State. Booker is mostly a receiving threat out of the backfield.
Tulane fans should be happy because they return almost all of their receiving production from last year. The problem, however, is that the group was very inconsistent last year.
The group is headlined by Tyrick James. A 6-foot-two, 250-pound tight end, James has had a breakout year under new coordinator Chip Long thus far in 2021. He is leading the team in receptions (8) and yards (142) through the two games thus far. James’ 17.8 yards per catch is very similar to former Ole Miss player Kenny Yeboah who averaged 19.4. Given how Long used tight ends at Notre Dame, the increase in production shouldn’t seem too shocking. The coaching staff believes James has All-Conference potential.
QB Michael Pratt ➡️ WR Tyrick James. TD Tulane ! 😱 pic.twitter.com/kabJ5HJAlh
— TBP College Football (@thebluepennant) November 20, 2020
Jha’Quan Jackson is a versatile player who will line up in many different spots. He tied for the most receptions last year with 31. Out of all the receivers for Tulane, he is the most consistent. Tied with Jackson for the most receptions in 2020 is Duece Watts. He is the twin brother of the other Green Wave receiver, Phat Watts. Number 2 and Number 3 both arrived at Tulane from Jones County CC and have been impact players since.
Mykel Jones was supposed to be an impact slot receiver transferring from Oklahoma in 2020 but a torn ACL has sidelined him for the entire season.
Similar to Louisville, the Tulane offensive line is considered talented but not deep. The group returns four starters and has six guys that will be looking for snaps. There’s been a little bit of shaking and movement along the right side but the group proves to be one of the best Tulane has had in recent memory.
The left side of the line along with the center brings nine years of experience with them. Corey Dublin is at left guard and he is now working on a fifth starting season for Tulane. Center Sincere Haynesworth started all of 2020 and a majority of 2019 while drawing rave reviews. Left tackle Joey Claybrook has had starting experience for the past few seasons.
On the right side of the line, we have some more questions. Rashad Green moves to right tackle after playing guard last season. The right guard position is slated to be Caleb Thomas’s job. We could see some rotation reps from Josh Remetich.
Overall, the group is a little undersized but will try to maneuver around that with their scheme. Ole Miss needs the interior defensive lineman along with the linebackers to quickly identify and fill gaps to trip up runners.
In the offseason, Tulane hired Chris Hampton as the new defensive coordinator. In 2020 he was at Duke as an assistant, focused on defensive backs. Prior to that, he held the same role at Tulane for a few seasons. Fritz welcomes him back with bigger expectations. Tulane’s 2018 defensive backs were some of the top in the nation statistically.
The group lost two-star defensive players from last year’s team in Patrick Johnson and Cameron Sample. The linebackers figure to be one of the best groups in the American conference and the defensive backs have some interesting transfers.
Hampton, with his tutelage under Fritz, should look to just clean up the messes from last year. They will mostly stay in a 3-4 defense. The group also returns six starters from a year ago.
As mentioned earlier Johnson and Sample are gone, making the ends a position of interest. On the inside, however, Jeffrey Johnson returns. The 330-pound nose tackle had six tackles for loss and four sacks last year in nine games. It looks as though Angelo Anderson has emerged as one of the new starting defensive ends this season. He had limited experience last year getting experience in only a few games. Two other names to watch are Noah Seiden and JoJo Dorceus. Dorceus comes to Tulane as a grad transfer from Memphis.
This is a position where Ole Miss can take advantage. Look for the Rebs to pound the rock early to open up the passing game.
A very deep position group for Tulane. Dorian Williams is the leader of this unit. A second-team All-AAC selection last year and Preseason AAC Defensive Player of the Year this year, Williams led the American conference in total tackles with 98. Even more impressive are his 16.5 TFL in 2020.
Those crack blocks on LBs always look easier on the whiteboard for WRs
Tulane LB Dorian Williams is a dude… Preseason AAC Defensive Player of the Year pic.twitter.com/khGx74bscm
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) September 16, 2021
Nick Anderson may be the other inside linebacker, and he notched 88 total tackles last year as a rotation piece. This year he is looking to be a more consistent presence on the field.
On the outside, the Green Wave return two guys using their COVID year. Marvin Moody was third on the team in total tackles last season and will bring a fifth year of experience to the group. Speaking of experience, we have to bring up Kevin Henry. He is in his seventh collegiate season and is in his second season at Tulane — while spending his first five years at Oklahoma State. Last year he added 48 tackles including seven for loss.
This kind of production and experience will pay dividends for the Green Wave all year. Look for this group to be flying around the field and remain highly disciplined.
With Hamilton being the new DC, we have to assume, given his expertise, that the defensive backs will be sound. They have added a few key transfers looking to bolster the group. Derrion Rakestraw comes to town after being a starter for Colorado last season. Lance Robinson transfers in after spending time at Kansas State. These two give the Green Wave some talent to be infused to this group.
As for returners, the group brings back senior corner Jaylon Monroe who broke up nine passes a year ago. Larry Brooks is the other returning starter. A junior safety, he started 11 of 12 contests a year ago. Other names to know are Macon Clark and Ajani Kerr. Kerr is a former Georgia Tech player who transferred to Tulane ahead of the 2020 season.
Merek Glover is the team’s kicker. He has made 74.8% of his field goals in his career. His long is only forty-four yards, so we can expect a lot of four-down territory for the Green Wave. Ryan Wright is now in his fourth year starting for Tulane and boasts an average of 43.8 yards per punt. The return game for both punts and kicks belongs to the quick-twitched receiver Jha’Quan Jackson.
Tulane made waves in their contest against Oklahoma. They lingered around, fought hard and never gave up. This is a team that still needs some work, though. They certainly will play spoiler for some teams in the conference, but coming into Oxford and trying to stop one of the most lethal offenses in college may be too much for them.
To me, there seems to be two potential outcomes. The first is that Tulane hangs around keeps control of the football and limits turnovers so they can slow the pace of this game. In this situation, we can still expect a close-ish game. Tulane can make it a contest if Ole Miss struggles to stop the run.
The second is that if Pratt and company turn the ball over as they did in the OU game, it could be over sooner rather than later. Remember, Oklahoma was up 37-14 at halftime. If the Sooners would’ve converted some of those Tulane turnovers into points, the game likely would have been over quicker. The Sooners shut down in the second half. Pratt has looked really good this year; however, last season he only completed 55% of his passes. He would need another big game against Ole Miss to keep Tulane in it.
We know Kiffin keeps his foot on the gas, and the Rebels will run up the score. Despite the talent that Tulane has, it’s not enough to slow down Ole Miss.
The Rebels need to stop the run game and pressure Pratt early and often. Trust the linebackers and safeties to make the necessary play. On offense, they need to see some explosive plays–one thing Ole Miss usually never lacks.
(Feature images credit: Josh McCoy (Ole Miss), Tulane Athletics; Graphic: Nick Filipich, Rebel Walk)
TJ Oxley is a current MBA student at Ole Miss after having earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Toledo. He currently covers college hoops and the NBA Draft for the Basketball Society as well as all things Ole Miss for The Rebel Walk.