The 24-hour rule had to be amended after Tulane’s 24-18 homecoming victory against East Carolina on Saturday.
With a monumental game at Houston coming Thursday, the Green Wave could not afford to celebrate for a full day before getting back to work as it pursues a spot in the American Athletic Conference championship game.
“It will be tomorrow watching tape and working on Houston,” coach Willie Fritz said Saturday night. “The thing we have to be careful of is not trying to do too much in a short week. We’ll go every day, but Monday will be more like (a regular) Tuesday and Tuesday will be more like a (regular) Wednesday and then Wednesday we’ll do a little more than we normally do (the day before a game), but the last thing we want to do is have our guys go into the game tired.”
Tulane got three huge pass plays and kept making stops defensively, beating the Pirates 24-18.
Thanks to Houston (7-3, 4-2 AAC) losing 59-49 at home to Temple, Tulane (5-5, 4-2) climbed into a three-way tie for first in the West with the Cougars and SMU (5-5, 4-2) entering the final two weeks of the regular season. If the Wave beats the Cougars, two weekend conference games will become must-watch viewing, with all eyes turning first to the Friday night game between Memphis and SMU in Dallas.
If the Mustangs lose to the Tigers, a victorious Tulane would have sole possession of first place with only a date against Navy (2-8, 1-5) at Yulman Stadium remaining. At that point, the attention would shift to Saturday’s game between Cincinnati (9-1, 5-1) and Central Florida (9-0, 6-0) in Orlando, Florida.
The Knights can lock up the East with a home victory.
When Tulane fell to 2-5 after losing at home to SMU on Oct. 20, no one could have imagined a scenario where the Wave played in the AAC championship game with a chance to knock off a UCF team on a two-year, 25-game win streak.
It is possible now. Even though the Wave struggled to hold off East Carolina (2-8, 0-6) on Saturday, it won a game resembling numerous others that had slipped away over the past 20 years. Tulane has not sniffed a conference championship since its perfect season in 1998, but the opportunity is there this season, requiring only a little help from SMU (one loss in its final two games) if the Wave handles its end.
A tougher-than-it-appeared early season schedule may be helping Tulane down the stretch. The five teams that beat the Wave — Wake Forest, UAB, Ohio State, Cincinnati and SMU — are a combined 37-13.
“Well, it was a long battle back to get back to .500,” Fritz said. “We played some really good teams. It also makes you battle tested when you get into games like this."
Tulane beat East Carolina in a completely different way than Tulsa and South Florida the two previous weeks, relying on huge plays in the passing game. The Pirates loaded up the box to stop the Wave’s rushing attack but surrendered touchdown strikes of 86, 73 and 79 yards.
“I probably would have done the same thing,” said quarterback Justin McMillan, who improved to 3-0 as a starter and threw for 372 yards. “Force McMillan to pass, stop (Corey) Dauphine and (Darius) Bradwell and see how well we can do. We're versatile. If they want to go man, zero coverage, we'll beat them in the air. If they want to go high safety shell with a lot of space and gaps, we are going to gash them.”
Tulane will be without outside linebacker Patrick Johnson for the first half against Houston as he serves a suspension for targeting, but Houston may not have star defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who has missed three consecutive games with a knee injury. In that span, the Cougars have allowed 1,518 yards and 140 points, losing two in a row.
Tulane’s defense has been much more solid.
“We're bending but we're not breaking,” Fritz said. “Holding people to 18 points and last week to 15 points, that's hard to do in this day and age with explosive offenses."