Tulane’s game against Memphis on Saturday has extra meaning to cornerback Taurean Nixon.
Nixon, a product of Baton Rouge’s Southern Lab High, played for Memphis in 2010 and 2011 before transferring to Tulane. He left after coach Larry Porter, who tutored the running backs at LSU from 2005 until taking over at Memphis, was fired.
Nixon started 15 games at Memphis, making 19 tackles as a freshman and 29 as a sophomore.
“It’s significant playing my old school,” he said. “I know a lot of those guys and still talk to a lot of them. There are lot of people coming in from Memphis to the game that I know.”
Nixon listed four Memphis starters — offensive tackle Al Bond, wide receiver Keiwone Malone, defensive end Martin Ifedi and cornerback Bobby McCain — as good friends.
Nixon lost his first-string status at cornerback to redshirt freshman Parry Nickerson after the season opener but still starts in the nickel package. He made a season-high eight tackles against Houston last week after getting beaten early and drawing the ire of safety Darion Monroe.
Monroe was ejected for targeting in the second quarter, and Nixon played a significant role in Tulane’s upset victory.
“I got caught up in a couple of plays where I was behind, so I came out to a sluggish start,” he said. “(Monroe and I) have the type of friendship where we can take criticism from one another. Once he got kicked out the game, I knew I had to step up for us to pull the game out.”
When Tulane (3-6) and Memphis (6-3) get inside the other team’s 20-yard line, don’t assume they will score.
The Green Wave ranks second nationally in red-zone defense, and Memphis is fourth according to NCAA stats, which rate teams based on the percentage of times they give up points. Tulane’s opponents have come up empty in the red zone 35 percent of the time, while Memphis’ opponents have gone scoreless 32 percent of the time.
The statistic is a little misleading since it does not measure touchdowns allowed. Tulane has yielded 19 touchdowns in 40 trips inside the 20, but three of the stops came when opponents took a knee to run out the clock at the end of the game.
TCU, which ranks 74th in red-zone defense in the NCAA tabulation, has limited opponents to 10 touchdowns on 25 possessions, a lower percentage than Tulane.
Still, the Wave defense came up big when it mattered most in Saturday’s 31-24 win at Houston, limiting the Cougars to 3 yards over four plays in the final seconds
Thursday morning’s practice was cold and rainy at Yulman Stadium, but coach Curtis Johnson said he did not consider asking the Saints whether his team could practice at their indoor facility. The temperature was in the mid-40s.
“I had coaches texting me last night (about) the Saints, the Saints, the Saints,” Johnson said. “No, we needed to get out here in this weather. We have some games coming up that it could be cold, and it could be a little colder than this on Saturday. I loved it. I thought (quarterback Tanner Lee) threw it well with the wet ball.”
According to weather.com, the temperature for the 2:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday will be in the 50s with a 0 percent chance of rain.
Johnson said running backs Sherman Badie and Lazedrick Thompson, who played sparingly against Houston because of ankle sprains, would be ready Saturday. Both of them looked full speed in practice this week.
Johnson also was optimistic about the progress of freshman wide receiver Leondre James, who suffered what appeared to be a serious ankle sprain in the second half against Houston. James practiced Thursday.
“They all looked like they were ready to play,” Johnson said. “Even Leondre looked ready, and I never thought that would happen.”