Coming off a comprehensive win against Nicholls State, the trick for Tulane is not to fall into the same trap that ensnared it a year ago.
After flattening Tulsa 62-28 at Yulman Stadium, the Green Wave came out flat the following week at Florida International and lost 23-10 in its most desultory performance of the season.
Next for Tulane (1-1) this time is a trip to UAB (1-1) an opponent with a remarkably similar profile to fellow Conference USA member FIU.
The Blazers won eight games in 2017, matching FIU. Last week they lost 47-24 at Coastal Carolina in an unimpressive performance, just like FIU had fallen 37-17 at Middle Tennessee before hosting Tulane.
“It’s kind of the same thing as FIU,” said senior quarterback Jonathan Banks, who was a miserable 5 of 16 day for 36 yards on that October day in Miami. “They (the Blazers) are a lower team than us, but we are playing them away. We just have to emphasize it more that we really have to come out and don’t take these guys lightly.”
Banks is not the only Tulane player with that sentiment. Wide receiver Darnell Mooney uttered almost the same words.
“We can’t just go in and be like, oh, this is a lower school than us,” he said. “We have to go against the person who’s next to us and play for ourselves. We have to have our minds ready to go all out.”
UAB, picked third in Conference USA West by the league’s media and first by Phil Steele, is 7-0 at home since the program returned from a two-year hiatus at the start of 2017. None of the victims was a heavyweight, but Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee won minor bowl games.
The concern about Tulane taking the Blazers lightly is not manufactured. It is real.
Relying heavily on transfers, UAB has 16 senior starters and is only a 4-point underdog.
“I personally feel like it is all about research,” senior free safety Roderic Teamer said. “We don’t have too many guys who really know too much about UAB as a program. They were shut down for a while and even before then a lot of guys didn’t know about them. I felt like guys were more comfortable last week against Nicholls. We knew a lot of those guys, so it was easy to get hype for that type of game. We need to carry the same intensity.”
Tulane’s first road trip of the year adds another tricky element. As many as six defensive players will be starting away from home for the first time in their career.
“That’s going to be a big test,” senior linebacker Zach Harris said. “For a lot of guys it will be their first time traveling.”
If it comes down to actual football, Tulane appears to have the advantage. UAB rushed for 286 yards against Coastal Carolina but allowed 296 yards on the ground.
The Wave, which has averaged 230.2 rushing yards in Willie Fritz’s 26 games as coach, held Wake Forest’s and Nicholls’ ground games in check. Take away a 32-yard touchdown run from the Colonels’ Dontrell Taylor in the fourth quarter, and neither team’s running backs averaged 4.0 yards.
The Blazers rely on bruising UAB sophomore Spencer Brown (6-foot-0, 228 pounds), who rushed for 1,329 yards a year ago and has gained 196 through two games this season.
“It’s a challenge we want to take on head first,” defensive end Cameron Sample said. “We pride ourselves on being able to stop the run, and we are working pretty well as a unit right now. We’re really looking forward to this matchup.”
Fritz blamed a poor game plan as a significant factor in Tulane’s loss to FIU, largely discounting any emotional deficiency. As is true every week, he insisted he would not do anything differently to get ready for UAB than for any other game.
“My experience has been the better team usually wins, whether it’s at home or on the road,” he said. “We just want our guys to prepare themselves and be ready to go Saturday.”