Nose guard Sean Wilson was double- and triple-teamed on almost every snap of Tulane’s 21-17 victory against Army.
His reward for surviving that hard, hot day is yet another matchup against a team that loves to run right up the middle.
Tulsa ranks ninth nationally in rushing, averaging 295 yards with a deceptive offense that spreads the field with four receivers, then pounds opponents that cannot load up the box.
Wilson won’t have to fight off the extra attention he received against Navy and Army, but he and backup nose guard Braynon Edwards will be pivotal in slowing down the Golden Hurricane’s ground game.
Tulsa running back D’Angelo Brewer, who gained 262 yards against Louisiana-Lafayette, is fourth on the school’s all-time rushing chart with 3,043 yards.
Tulane’s open date came at the perfect time for Wilson, who needed the rest after Army rushed for 371 yards on 69 attempts while controlling the ball for nearly 40 minutes. That exhausting experience came two weeks after Tulane limited Navy’s same triple-option style and blocking techniques to a season-low 194 rushing yards, and the wear and tear was evident.
“We kept fighting, but they wore us down,” Wilson said.
The cumulative effect would have been even greater without the emergence of Edwards, who spelled Wilson when he needed a rest and gave the defense a huge left. Since he has arrived in 2014, Edwards has been an out-of-shape mess, wasting his quick feet while weighing more than 370 pounds.
After December, though, he shed 50 pounds, and the hard work has paid off. He entered his redshirt junior season with two career tackles and surpassed that total with three against Army, giving him five stops in the past two games.
When the Wave stuffed the Black Knights on a fourth-and-2 play from the Tulane 29-yard line in the third quarter, Edwards’ penetration was the key, forcing quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw to slow down before cornerback Parry Nickerson tackled him for a loss.
“The main thing is shedding blocks,” Edwards said. “It used to be hard for me to get off of them. Now I’m a lot quicker, and everything is happening faster.”
But Wilson, who got faster and stronger for his senior year in the absence of first-team All-AAC tackle Tanzel Smart, will be the focal point again. He’s ready.
“We’ve just got to keep going and believing that we can win,” he said. “They have a very good running game. We will have to stop the run to gain control of them.”
1: Score more
Tulane beat Army with 21 points, but that total likely won’t be good enough against Tulsa, which hung 66 on Louisiana-Lafayette in its only victory and 51 in a wild loss at Toledo. Sustaining drives the way the Green Wave did on its first two possessions at Oklahoma will be critical. Other than that stretch, the offense has struggled to move the ball consistently. Tulane cannot count on getting 75- and 72-yard touchdown runs like it did against Army. Tulsa has been a sieve defensively, yielding 574 yards per game. Can the Wave take advantage?
2: Double trouble
The quarterback runs early and often in most modern college offenses, and Tulane’s Jonathan Banks proved on several pivotal plays to beat Army he has that skill set. He considers himself a passer first, but coach Willie Fritz wants him to keep the ball whenever the opportunity rises. If Tulsa starts worrying about his legs, Banks can beat the defense with his arm. Look for Banks and Tulsa’s Chad President to reach double digits in carries. The one who complements that aspect with strong throwing will have the clear advantage.
3: Ground bound
After facing triple-option teams Navy and Army, Tulane faces yet another run-heavy opponent. Tulsa has run on 270 snaps, or 69 percent of the time. The Wave has run 189 times for 75 percent, though that number is more lopsided than it would be if Banks had been healthy all year. Tulsa’s zone-blocking scheme is nothing like Navy’s or Army’s, but Tulane’s tackling, something Fritz stresses repeatedly, will be tested again.
4: Stop the rot
Tulsa has owned Tulane since joining Conference USA in 2005 and moving together to the American Athletic Conference, winning 11 of 12 while outscoring the Wave 479-191 in those victories. Those are brutal numbers, but Tulane finally is favored to end the streak. The Wave, which appears on the verge of a breakthrough under Fritz after its dramatic victory against Army, cannot afford to waste the opportunity. A win would even Tulane’s conference record and move it halfway to bowl eligibility. A loss would mean an 0-2 conference start and a depressing 4-22 all-time AAC mark.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
8.23: Yards per play allowed by Tulsa, worst in the country
190.3: Pass efficiency rating allowed by Tulsa, worst in the country
319.8: Average rushing yards allowed by Tulsa, worst in the country