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Cougars look to stop the running Green Wave

The Cougars will again face a team led by a strong running game when they travel to New Orleans to face the Tulane Green Wave on Saturday. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Having delivered their first 50-plus point offensive performance of the season, albeit against arguably the nation’s worst defense in East Carolina, the Cougars will be looking to extend their winning streak against the Tulane Green Wave.

Despite the Mean Green’s 4-6 record, the Cougars will have to watch out for their dangerous rushing offense coupled with home-crowd support at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans.

All about the run

Tulane’s offensive system is heavily dependent on its running game. The Green Wave average 49 plays, 244 yards and 2.7 touchdowns on the ground per contest, placing them among the nation’s top-25 teams in rushing production and time of possession. With such volume of running plays, Tulane has lost only four fumbles over 10 games this year, demonstrating immense ball security.

Tulane’s quarterback Jonathan Banks fits perfectly into that system. The junior has already rushed 113 times for 476 yards and seven scores this year. As a passer, Banks has completed only 54.6 percent of his throws for a total of nine touchdowns, while throwing just four touchdowns.

In spite of such respectable rushing output from Banks, senior running back Dontrell Hilliard is the lead playmaker in the Green Wave’s backfield. He places among the top-30 running backs with his 1,112 yards and 13 scores in plays from scrimmage, which includes two TD receptions.

Running backs Darius Bradwell and Sherman Badie provide support to Tulane’s running game, along with backup quarterback Johnathan Brantley. The trio amassed 800-plus yards and seven scores among them, three of which came from Brantley, showing that both quarterbacks on Tulane’s roster are capable of scoring with their feet.

Mean Green defensive front takes a hit

Tulane is coming off a 2016 season in which they led the nation with 16 forced fumbles, but they did lose three of their best tacklers from last season. Nico Marley, Tanzel Smart and Roderic Teamer accounted for 125 solo tackles, 26 of those for loss, and five forced fumbles among them. All three graduated last year.

Meanwhile, this year’s rendition of the Mean Green defensive unit sees them in the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision with 6.55 yards allowed per play, having produced only five fumbles over 10 games.

Making the most impact in the tackling department for the Green Wave are returning safety Jarrod Franklin and senior linebacker Rae Juan Marbley. The duo combined for 90 solo tackles, 13.5 for loss, with the latter also adding two sacks and a forced fumble.

Helping the duo is freshman safety Chase Kuerschen with his knack for big plays, producing two fumbles and a pick.  As far as pass rush is concerned, senior defensive end Luke Jackson leads the team with 3.5 sacks, alongside his six tackles for loss.

The Green Wave secondary, on the other hand, returns both of their primary playmakers from 2016 — junior Donnie Lewis and senior Parry Nickerson. The cornerback duo has combined for six interceptions and 17 pass breakups so far in 2017, already matching their last season total in both categories.

Measuring up Tulane’s opposition in 2017

The Mean Green are 4-6 on the season, going 3-2 at home. Let’s project Houston onto some of the particular opponents Tulane has played. The Green Wave suffered losses to Florida International and Cincinnati, both schools close to Houston in offensive output, with the latter at home. The Cincinnati Bearcats were able to stifle Tulane’s running game to only 132 yards rushing and one TD, well below their season average of 200-plus rushing yards allowed to opponents.

When facing a defense that allowed less than 200 yards on the ground per contest, the Mean Green have gone 1-6. Houston should feel safe in that regard, allowing an average of 140 yards rushing to their opponents.

Comparing their home and away performances, Tulane clearly appears to be more comfortable playing in New Orleans, with the only  exception being an upset loss to a three-win Cincinnati squad. But the Green Wave crushed Tulsa, beat an eight-win Army team and almost completed a miraculous comeback against South Florida.

When going to New Orleans on Saturday, the Cougars will have to keep their guard up to avoid what happened in a road game against another struggling team who possessed a run-heavy offense: the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.

Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. Saturday.

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