1. Moving on up
When these two teams met at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2012, it was a matchup between Big East and Conference USA teams. Two years later, both schools have moved onto a higher perch, with the Scarlet Knights crashing the “Power Five” conferences by gaining an invitation to the Big 10. Rutgers’ move opened the door for the American Athletic Conference (formerly known as the Big East) to add Tulane. The new conference affiliations have been trumpeted as important leaps forward by both athletic departments, boosting revenue at each school.
2. Turnover terrors
Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee earned the starting nod early in preseason camp, and despite throwing an FBS-worst nine interceptions in the first four weeks of the season, Green Wave coach Curtis Johnson said he is not anywhere close to replacing the redshirt freshman. Lee had up-and-down performances in the first three weeks against Tulsa, Georgia Tech and Southeastern Louisiana. In last week’s 48-13 loss at Duke, however, Lee threw three costly interceptions and didn’t complete a touchdown pass as the Blue Devils pounced on Tulane’s mistakes. Tulane coaches would like to put him in better down-and-distance scenarios to help him avoid the pressure of throwing into coverage down field.
3. Mitigating mistakes
Lee’s struggles pale in comparison to the performance of the Green Wave’s kicking game, which has magnified from a point of concern into an outright disaster. Missed field goals by freshman Andrew DiRocco plagued Tulane early in the year, but those were a small part of the Tulane’s implosion against Duke. Deep snapper Mike Lizanich pulled his hamstring during pregame warmups, forcing the Green Wave to turn to tight end Matt Marfisi. The senior was hardly prepared for the role and three botched snaps led directly to 10 Duke points. Johnson said he expects Lizanich to play, but his status is still unknown. Even a neutral performance in the kicking game would provide a significant upgrade to Tulane’s chances.
4. Slowing the spread
Tulane’s defense has faced a variety of offenses in the past month, including Georgia Tech’s flexbone, Southeastern’s spread and Duke’s zone-read. They’ll add Rutgers’ pro set on Saturday, which relies heavily on the traditional two-receiver, tight end-and-fullback look. It likely will force Tulane to use a third linebacker in place of its traditional nickel set, in order to match Rutgers’ strength at the line of scrimmage. The Scarlet Knights average 177 yards per game on the ground and have scored nine touchdowns on 168 total carries (22nd most of any team in the country).