Getting past the sting of a disappointing loss to UAB did not prove insurmountable as Tulane prepared for a trip to fourth-ranked Ohio State on Saturday. No one is happy about the 1-2 start, but the Green Wave also feels lucky to have the opportunity to play in the Horseshoe.
Ohio Stadium, the official name for the Buckeyes’ famed 104,944-seat venue, has by far the largest capacity of any place Tulane has traveled to in its 125-year history. LSU’s Tiger Stadium was around 93,000 the last time the Wave played there, in 2009.
“The size of the crowd, if you don’t love this, you shouldn’t be playing this sport,” said running back Darius Bradwell, coming off a career-best 90-yard game against UAB. “Playing THE Ohio State University should get us going.”
The Wave is a 37-point underdog in the largest point spread of the week. Tulane not only is an afterthought approaching Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s return to the sideline after a three-game suspension; it is a non-thought. Tulane’s name never came up in either Meyer’s 55-minute news conference Monday or his nine-minute appearance on the Big Ten teleconference a day later.
Saturday afternoon is the chance to leave an impression.
“If you're a competitor, this is the game you want to play in, plain and simple,” coach Willie Fritz said. “It will be interesting. There will be some dudes that are really going to the top in this game. You will see their best game that they played this season. I hope that's a bunch of them. You want to have your best dudes out there with the frame of mind to compete.”
Tulane competed early in a similar situation at then second-ranked Oklahoma last year. With injured starting quarterback Jonathan Banks sitting out, the Wave drove 65 yards in eight plays for a touchdown to go ahead 7-0 and cruised 75 yards in nine plays for another touchdown the next time it had the ball, making the score 14-7.
The Sooners led 21-14 late in the second quarter, 28-14 at the half and 35-14 after three quarters before piling on three touchdowns in the fourth to win going away 56-14.
“They were pretty good with Baker Mayfield that day, and our confidence went up when we stayed in the game with them,” Bradwell said. “We realized that we can play with them. That just gives a confidence boost. We just know we have to play hard.”
Senior safety Roderic Teamer did not play against Oklahoma because of injury, but he was on the sideline for emotional support and remembers how special the experience was.
“The fans were into it from the time we got off the bus until the time we took the field,” he said. “Those games are fun. It’s a great opportunity for our program and our team. We are excited to go up there, and I’m excited personally to get on the field.”
Senior defensive lineman Robert Kennedy missed the Oklahoma game, too, while recuperating from a knee injury. He expects a different mindset at the start against Ohio State than what happened against UAB, when Tulane trailed 14-0 early.
“I don’t know whether it was the heat or it just wasn’t on their mind that we had a game,” he said of some of his teammates. “It was definitely like we were playing in slow motion, and once everyone got out of that little funk, it was a different game for us. I can’t wait to feel that energy (at Ohio State) and be out there in it. It’s going to be fun.”
The combined attendance at Tulane’s first three games was 58,561, with a high of 21,991 at UAB. Ohio Stadium will feel like a different world.
“It’s always great to go play in a stadium like that,” senior offensive tackle John Leglue said. “Oklahoma had a stadium about 80,000 and Ohio State’s stadium holds over 100,000. Everybody’s looking forward to going out and competing. It will be a blast.”
It will be even better if Tulane has a similar start, when it blew Oklahoma off the ball on the first two possessions. One advantage for the Wave: Ohio State is missing star defensive end Nick Bosa, who had surgery Thursday after suffering an apparent groin injury last Saturday against TCU and was ruled out earlier in the week.
Still, the Buckeyes are not exactly depth shy after placing second, second and third over the past three years in the Rivals.com recruiting rankings.
“From the top to the bottom, everybody’s talented (on the Buckeyes roster),” Leglue said. “They are all good athletes, and we just have to be fundamentally sound and do everything we can in our power to control the plays.”
Ohio State could be looking ahead to its big game at Penn State next Saturday in maybe the only Big Ten contest in which it will not be a double-digit favorite until its home finale against Michigan.
Regardless of the score, Tulane will be searching for positives to build on for its American Athletic Conference opener against Memphis next Friday at Yulman Stadium. The Wave expected to have more than one win entering its daunting assignment.
“We’re a couple plays from being 3-0 and feeling really good about ourselves,” Fritz said. “But that’s not the reality. Reality right now is we’re 1-2, playing a great football team this weekend at their place, so we’ve got to focus in on the job at hand here with Ohio State.”