After facing two under-center, triple-option teams in Navy and Army, Tulane (3-2) is preparing for something almost as unusual this week.
Florida International (3-2) runs a pro set under former Miami Hurricanes and Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis, a style that has become increasingly rare in a spread-dominated sport.
FIU uses multiple personnel groupings, often has quarterback Alex McGough under center and lines up in the I-formation. In other words, the offense looks similar to what most teams ran 20 years ago but have abandoned in droves since the turn of the century.
“I had to explain what I-backs were,” Tulane linebackers coach Michael Mutz said. “(Players) were like, ‘Coach, what’s that? I’ve never seen it before.’ I told them, believe it or not, that’s old-school football. We’re excited for the challenge. We’re going to have to get lined up extremely well Saturday to all their formations.”
The Panthers have called 164 runs and 165 passes, including 12 sacks that count as running plays in college football giving the appearance of perfect balance in the official stats.
“I like the way they play,” said linebacker Rae Juan Marbley, Tulane’s leading tackler. “It’s going to be a fun game against a traditional offensive style. It will open our playbook, so we can do a lot of different things.”
Back to Miami
Three Tulane players with Miami roots will get to play in their hometown for the only time in their careers.
Starting center Junior Diaz, reserve defensive tackle Braynon Edwards and backup offensive guard Leeward Brown, who all have played in every game this year, will have extra motivation against the Panthers. Coach Willie Fritz wants them to enjoy the experience without letting the homecoming become a distraction.
“They have a bunch of people coming,” Fritz said. “I told them to make sure they got their ticket situation set up before we get to Miami. They are pumped up about it.”
The Tulane-FIU game is on the 45th anniversary of one of the most controversial losses in Tulane history, also in Miami.
On Oct. 14, 1972 at the Orange Bowl, Miami threw a 31-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter for a 24-21 victory after being awarded a fifth down when officials lost count. After a fourth-down pass went incomplete, the Hurricanes offense and the Wave defense left the field before the referees asked them to return.
Five years later, Tulane beat Miami 13-10 in its most recent trip to Miami.
For the fourth time in its first six games, Tulane will not be on over-the-air television Saturday, but the FIU game is available on CUSA.tv, Conference USA’s live streaming network.
Fans can go to the Conference USA website and get a 24-hour pass for $6.95.
The Wave’s final six regular-season games will be on either an ESPN network or the CBS Sports Network.
Tulane’s deep backfield became even deeper in Saturday’s 62-28 victory against Tulsa when redshirt freshman Miles Strickland played for the first time in his career during the fourth quarter.
Strickland, who rarely practiced last year because of a foot injury, pulled a hamstring in the first week of preseason camp and sat out for an extended period again. He had consecutive runs of 2, 7 and 8 yards on the Wave’s final drive on Saturday.
“He's got some ability, he really does,” Fritz said. “He's just been banged up almost the whole time he's been here. It’s good to have another back.”
Strickland is still behind Dontrell Hilliard, Sherman Badie, Darius Bradwell and Stephon Huderson in the pecking order at the position.
Tulane has attempted only one field goal, the fewest of any team in the nation. Walk-on Merek Glover has not tried any since replacing Coby Neenan after the second game. Neenan made the kick, a 21-yarder against Grambling. … Tulane’s highest scoring quarter is the second, with 57 points. FIU has allowed 68 points in the second quarter, more than double the total of any other quarter. … FIU’s Riccardo Silva Stadium has FieldTurf, and its capacity is 20,000.