In the rare role of a favorite, Tulane plans to use home-field advantage to its full effect in a must-win game against Connecticut at Yulman Stadium.
The Green Wave, which has been an underdog in 25 of coach Curtis Johnson’s first 29 games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, is favored by a field goal according to most Las Vegas bookmakers. Coming off its first bowl game in 11 years, Tulane (1-4, 0-1 American Athletic Conference) has to beat UConn (1-4, 0-2) to maintain any realistic hope of salvaging the season.
With that in mind, the Wave is happy to be home after a pair of lopsided losses at Duke (47-13) and Rutgers (31-6).
“I feel like we play better at home,” safety Sam Scofield said Wednesday. It’s an extra edge and extra motivation. We’ve been practicing on this field, and the places we’ve played at have had loud home crowds, so that’s definitely been a factor. It will be nice to relax on Friday and stay in New Orleans.”
Tulane’s lone victory came in its last game at Yulman Stadium, a convincing 35-20 triumph over FCS opponent Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 13. A week earlier, the Wave led Georgia Tech for most of the first half at Yulman before falling 38-21 in a hard-fought game.
The sample size is small, but those easily were Tulane’s two best performances of the year. The undefeated Yellow Jackets have risen to No. 22 in the Associated Press poll now, having beaten Virginia Tech and Miami. Southeastern Louisiana, ranked ninth in the FCS coaches’ poll, trailed the Wave 28-3 at the half.
With Tulane having nine freshman or sophomore starters, that home/road disparity is normal.
“You’re comfortable when you’re at home,” Johnson said. “They know where their lockers are. They know what to do. They don’t get big-eyed like they do at some of those visiting stadiums, looking around like they’ve never been in a football stadium before.”
The novelty of playing at Yulman Stadium has not worn off. After playing in the lifeless environment of a nearly empty Mercedes-Benz Superdome until this season, the Wave loves the enthusiasm its boisterous on-campus crowd has given it.
“Home games help tremendously with the fans,” cornerback Lorenzo Doss said. “The student section has been great.”
UConn is no Georgia Tech. The Huskies, who are underdogs even though Tulane likely won’t have injured starting quarterback Tanner Lee, average only 14.8 points. Their high total in five games was 21 points, and they have scored six offensive touchdowns. They finished with 142 yards and six first downs in a 17-14 loss at South Florida played in a driving rainstorm, scoring their first touchdown on an interception return and the second with 1:19 left.
Like Tulane, the Huskies are winless against FBS opponents, but unlike Tulane, their victory against an FCS team was unimpressive.
UConn sneaked past Stony Brook 19-16 at home while being outgained 300-223.
Senior quarterback Chandler Whitmer is completing barely half of his throwing (51.4 percent) while averaging 143 passing yards.
The Huskies’ top four running backs all average less than 4.0 yards per carry.
“Tulane has an athletic defense that can create a lot of stress,” UConn coach Bob Diaco said. “They play a very aggressive, attacking style, so it will be a great challenge.”
The Wave was a little too aggressive against Rutgers. Doss made his 13th career interception in the third quarter but was burned three times while undercutting receivers in an attempt for more pickoffs.
Those mistakes, which led to 291 passing yards for the Scarlet Knights, prompted Tulane to concentrate on fundamentals during its open week. Johnson hopes the payoff comes Saturday night.
“Win or lose, I want to see us play well,” he said. “I want to see us have our swagger back and having some fun. I just want to see us go out there with a lot of energy. I felt like the last couple of games with being on the road, our energy wasn’t where it should have been. If we play well, the wins and the losses will take care of themselves.”
Both teams had open dates last weekend, but Tulane should be fresher. UConn flew nearly 1,300 miles to get to New Orleans, and the Wave knows the feeling after traveling at least 550 miles on its three road trips.
“We’re excited,” Scofield said. “We’ve been practicing really hard and watching a lot of film. We’ve had long road trips, so we’re ready to get back on our home field and show people who we really are.”