Unable to match up with the best teams on their schedule, struggling Tulane and Cincinnati can take their frustrations out on each other at Yulman Stadium.
It is homecoming week for the Green Wave, but just call it Opportunity Saturday.
The five losses for Tulane (3-5, 1-3 American Athletic Conference), which fell behind Memphis 35-0 in less than 20 minutes last Friday, have come against opponents with a combined record of 31-7.
The six defeats for Cincinnati (2-6, 0-4), a loser of five in a row, have been to teams with a combined record of 37-9.
On the first weekend after Halloween, the task for both the Green Wave and the Bearcats will be much less scary as they try to keep their flagging bowl hopes alive. They are not looking at Oklahoma, which beat Tulane 56-14, or Michigan, which handled Cincinnati 36-14, on the other sideline.
“We see weaknesses on their offense and defense,” Tulane senior nickelback Jarrod Franklin said. “We have to make plays off of that and be successful.”
Tulane, which has the tougher remaining schedule (Houston and SMU as the final two games), must win three of its last four to get to .500.
Cincinnati, coming off a bye, faces the dregs of the AAC East the rest of the way (Temple, East Carolina, Connecticut) and needs to win out.
First-year Bearcats coach Luke Fickell recognized plenty of his own team in Tulane’s issues the past two weeks, when South Florida and Memphis scored seven touchdowns of 28 yards or more. Navy and Central Florida scored eight times from outside the red zone against Cincinnati in back-to-back conference games.
“They (the Wave) have given up some big plays, and it’s hurt them,” Fickell said. “We know how that feels, getting in a situation where you’re down in a game very early and fighting from way, way too deep. Without that, they’ve done a darn good job of being physical up front and stopping the run.”
Tulane coach Willie Fritz saw all sorts of problems in the 56-26 loss to Memphis, from the offensive line’s inability to create space vertically or horizontally to the defensive breakdowns that allowed the Tigers to have touchdown drives of 1, 2 and 3 plays.
He also saw a really good opponent. Memphis (7-1, 4-1), the third ranked foe Tulane has faced, moved up to No. 22 in the Associated Press poll. After getting a touchdown on five consecutive second-half possessions in its previous game against Houston, the Tigers reached the end zone on five of its first series against Tulane.
“That’s a team that may end up in the top 10 or top 15 in the country when the season gets over,” he said. “It’s a really big squad with a lot of great skill players. There were probably two or three guys we’ll see playing on Sunday next year.”
Cincinnati, whose only two victories were 26-14 against Austin Peay and 21-17 against Miami (Ohio), does not present the same problems. The Bearcats rank last in the AAC in total offense (337.4 yards per game) and 11th in scoring (21.0), a 10th of a point higher than Temple.
No Cincinnati player is among the AAC’s top 10 in rushing or receiving yards, Quarterback Hayden Moore is 10th in passing efficiency.
“The big thing we talked about on Monday is looking at the physicality on every single play, the effort on every single play and the competitiveness on every single play,” Fritz said. “That’s what you have to have in Division I football. We have to play well early and play much better in all three phases to come away with a win.
“We have to take a step forward this week. I felt like we took a step back last week.”
Priority No. 1 is avoiding another glacial start. In the last two weeks, South Florida and Memphis outscored Tulane 55-20 in the first half. The Wave also trailed Florida International 10-3 at halftime at the beginning of its three-game skid.
“If we play like we’ve been playing the last three weeks, I don’t think we’ll win any of our next four games,” senior linebacker Luke Jackson said. “If we play like we can, we should be able to win them.”
Fritz said he hoped center Junior Diaz would be ready to play Saturday after missing the Memphis game with an unspecified injury. Diaz did not practice Tuesday. … Franklin and Jackson did not like the energy in Tuesday’s practice, saying it would be addressed Wednesday.