After beating American Athletic Conference co-leader Houston on the road, the Green Wave (3-6, 2-3) gets a crack at Memphis (6-3, 4-1), which has sole possession of first place, at Yulman Stadium. The Tigers edged Temple 16-13 with a 31-yard field goal as time ran out in a defense-dominated game on Friday. Memphis trailed 10-0 early, rallied to go ahead 13-10 and drove 66 yards for the winning points after Temple tied the score. The Tigers rely on the efficiency of quarterback Paxton Lynch, who has completed 65.1 percent of his passes, and a defense that is holding opponents to 344.8 yards per game. They are bowl eligible for the first time since 2008, when they finished 6-7, and are in position to win eight games under third-year coach Justin Fuente for the first time since 2004. Knocking off Memphis would be a significant step forward for Tulane.
Discarding season-long frustrations, Tulane rebounded from an awful end of the first half and dominated Houston for most of the second half of a 31-24 victory that ended the Green Wave’s 18-game skid outside of Louisiana and a 10-game losing streak to the Cougars. The Wave led 14-7 when Houston recovered a Teddy Veal fumble in the end zone to tie the score at 14 with 1:53 left in the first half. The Cougars then intercepted Tanner Lee and turned it into a last-second field goal. Instead of folding, Tulane relied on the run in the second half with freshman Dontrell Hilliard and senior Dante Butler, scoring 17 consecutive points after halftime to go ahead 31-17. The Wave survived a late Houston touchdown and successful onside kick to hold on 31-24. The huge celebration after Parry Nickerson’s game-ending interception was well deserved.
Hilliard and Nickerson. With leading running back Sherman Badie ineffective because of an ankle injury and second-leading rusher Lazedrick Thompson unable to play, Hilliard had his second straight huge game. He rushed for 85 yards and a score and had a 63-yard touchdown reception off a nifty pass route. Nickerson, a redshirt freshman, ran his team-leading interception total to six with two more, including the clincher. The Wave needed that performance after starting safety Darion Monroe was ejected for targeting in the first half.
“Parry Nickerson really plays unconscious. He’s always around the ball.”
— Tulane coach Curtis Johnson
Keep an eye on
Redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Lee is a different player since coming back from a right shoulder injury that sidelined him for two games. He made one mistake on an overthrow near the end of the first half but was clean the rest of the way, showing the skills that should make him a star down the road. He three threw touchdown passes, including a perfect fade to Leondre James, and finished 24 of 35 for 237 yards. That’s winning football.
Tulane scored more than 14 points for the first time since the third game of the year against Southeastern Louisiana. … The Wave came out ahead in a battle of two of the nations’ top 10 teams in forcing turnovers, forcing four while giving up two. … True freshmen accounted for 204 of Tulane’s 237 receiving yards and all four touchdowns. … Freshman Andrew DiRocco has converted four of his last five field goals after missing four of his first five.