Undefeated South Florida, the highest-ranked Tulane opponent in the four-year history of Yulman Stadium, will encounter an Angry Wave on Saturday night.
Not just on the field, but on top of the scoreboard as well.
A 26-foot tall, Fiberglass and Styrofoam version of the old Angry Wave logo Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen fell in love with soon after taking the job was put into position Tuesday above the scoreboard inside the stadium.
Originally expected to be ready before the season opener against Grambling, its long-anticipated, snarling debut will be at the 6 p.m. matchup between the Green Wave (3-3, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) and the Bulls (6-0, 3-0) on ESPN2.
The players already are angry after by far their worst performance of the season in a 23-10 loss at Florida International as a double-digit favorite — a game Tulane never led and was dominated in statistically. After trampling Tulsa 62-24 two weeks ago in Yulman Stadium, they would love nothing more than to end a 34-year winless streak against ranked opponents.
South Florida has won a nation’s best 11 consecutive games since falling to Temple on Oct. 21, 2016, exactly a year ago from Saturday’s matchup. The Bulls are tied for 16th in The Associated Press poll and 13th in the coaches’ poll, considerably higher than the only other top-25 team Tulane faced at Yulman Stadium — No. 24 Houston in 2015.
“Any week, anybody can be beaten,” Tulane running back Dontrell Hilliard said. “At the same time, if we come and play our full game, I don’t think anybody can play with us in this stadium.”
Tulsa certainly couldn’t, giving up touchdowns on all seven Tulane possessions in the first half on Oct. 7 as the Wave rolled to 488 rushing yards, the third-highest total in school history. A week later, though, the Golden Hurricane clobbered Houston 45-17 at home while Tulane came up empty at FIU.
Considering that dramatic turnaround, the Wave, 3-0 at home and 0-3 on the road, sees no reason it cannot happen again Saturday.
“Every team we play, we’ve got to be on point,” coach Willie Fritz said. “It’s like I told our guys, if you saw the game the week before, you would never have thought the team that won that game would play the way we did or the team that lost the game would play the way they did the following week.”
Junior college transfer quarterback Jonathan Banks, 9 of 13 for 165 yards against Tulsa while also rushing for 93 yards on 10 carries, slipped to 5 of 16 for 36 yards against FIU. He picked up only 59 yards on 20 carries, getting sacked three times and tripped up on several other occasions when he was on the verge of breaking free.
The Wave needs him to be the exciting playmaker he was against Tulsa rather than the tentative mistake-maker he was at FIU.
“I’m excited to play the No. 16 team in the country and come out here and redeem myself,” he said. “As a quarterback, you have rocky days sometimes, but I’m ready to compete against South Florida. It’s a good chance to put Tulane on the map.”
The defense needs to play better, too. The Wave had only one tackle for a loss against FIU after averaging more than five in its first five games. The Panthers targeted cornerback Parry Nickerson repeatedly after every other opponent avoided him, and receiver Thomas Owens won that battle most of the time, finishing with six catches for 152 yards.
Now comes South Florida dual-threat quarterback Quinton Flowers, who put up Heisman Trophy-like stats a year ago (2,812 yards passing, 24 passing touchdowns, 1,530 yards rushing, 18 rushing touchdowns). His numbers are down this season, but the Bulls have scored at least 31 points in every game.
“It’s going to be great atmosphere, and we’ll be ready,” Nickerson said. “That loss was a wakeup call. We’re on a path to redemption.”
And this time, the angry Wave will have an Angry Wave looking over them.
“It’s going to be great,” Fritz said. “It’s another neat addition to Yulman Stadium.”