The Memphis Tigers have opened the season 4-1 and will now face their biggest test of the season yet against the Tulane Green Wave, who are also 4-1.
The Green Wave are the defending AAC champions and one of the biggest threats to the Memphis Tigers’ ambitions this season under Ryan Silverfield, who is coaching his best year since taking over the program in 2020.
The game marks a pivotal point in the Tigers’ season. If they win, they put themselves in the driver’s seat for the conference title. If they lose, the noise surrounding Silverfield’s tenure in charge and the attached underwhelming feeling will only grow louder. It’s a primetime game under the Friday night lights and will be one to watch for the neutrals as the two sides at the top of the AAC go head-to-head.
The importance of this game for the Memphis Tigers cannot be understated. Beating Tulane signals a changing of the guard, and the Tigers take back the AAC’s control. It could be huge for recruiting, too, and Memphis is set to have multiple recruits in the building for the home game atmosphere on Friday night.
Tulane vs. Memphis Game Preview
Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt has only featured in three games so far this season, having missed Week 2 and 3 with a knee injury. He threw two touchdowns in his two appearances since returning, but Memphis will pose the biggest challenge he’s faced so far this year.
Pratt is a prototypical pocket passer, standing six-foot-three and 220 pounds, with decent accuracy on short to medium throws and enough arm strength to fit the football into windows on those throws. He doesn’t possess a strong deep ball, and it’s easy to push him out of his comfort zone in the red zone, where he often appears rushed.
The real threat in this team is the defense, which is a top-12 defense against the run so far this season, allowing just 89.8 rushing yards per game.
Patrick Jenkins has been one of the stars of that defense so far this year and leads a very talented front seven that has been able to threaten every team they’ve faced so far this year.
Jenkins is a game-wrecker. He’s got very active hands and can bully an offensive lineman when he’s on his game, so far managing three sacks this season from the interior of the defensive line.
Linebackers Jesus Machado and Tyler Grubbs make most of the tackles, filling gaps in the Green Wave run defense, and safety Bailey Despanie will throw his weight around in the box too, so far contributing 27 tackles on the season, good for second on the roster.
The Green Wave defense does a great job stuffing the run and forcing teams into third and long situations, which could become a problem for Memphis if not managed correctly. Seth Henigan has thrown five picks this year, and two of those came against Missouri. One was a third and long, and the other a fourth down conversion attempt.
Henigan has shown flashes throughout his development as the starting quarterback for the Tigers, but they don’t want to find themselves down early and chasing the game here, especially against this Tulane defense that will make you earn your yardage through the air.
Roc Taylor will be pivotal in this matchup, just as he was against an SEC opponent when the Tigers faced Missouri. Taylor had seven catches for 143 yards in that game and led the team on the season with 399 yards and two touchdowns.
Taylor is the guy who can make the difference with the ball in his hands. So far this year, he’s been the guy after playing a far smaller role in his first two seasons with the program. He’s averaging 15.3 yards per catch and, along with RB Blake Watson, is one of the team’s most dangerous weapons after the catch.
Watson’s performance on Friday night will be one of the biggest keys in this game. He has been excellent this year, with 458 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the year, including a 169-yard game on the ground against Navy and 113 more against Boise State last time out.
The RB standout is a threat in the passing game, too, posting 26 receptions so far this season for 231 yards and another touchdown through the air. So far this year, Blake Watson leads the team in yards after the catch, with 281 on the season.
Getting the ball into Watson’s hands and letting him work against this defense is going to be a major factor, and he could be very effective if matched up against linebackers in the passing game against the Green Wave.
The Tigers need to take advantage of the home-field atmosphere here, and while Tulane is 4-1, they are yet to win on the road. They faced Ole Miss earlier in the year and struggled with a 37-20 loss in which stand-in quarterback Kai Horton threw 15/37 for 231 yards, a touchdown, and a pick.
If Memphis can get the crowd behind them, get ahead in the game, and scheme their two biggest weapons into this game, they can absolutely overthrow Tulane, and it would be huge for the program if they do.
It’s important for the Tigers to control the tempo here and settle into the game, especially early on. The first half against Boise was a little ugly, and the offense was forced off the field too often, which resulted in short-field opportunities for Boise and an eventual 17-0 lead. It wasn’t until Roc Taylor broke a tackle with five minutes left in the half that Memphis got on the scoreboard, and they made life hard for themselves, having to battle from behind in the second half.
Fortunately, the second-half display was far better, but they can’t risk such a tale of two halves against a strong Tulane program this coming Friday night.
Tulane vs. Memphis Game Prediction
Memphis is a four-point underdog, but they can win at home. We need to see the football in Blake Watson and Roc Taylor’s hands early and often, giving them opportunities to make a man miss after the catch and drive the offense down the field.
While it hasn’t been perfect all year, Memphis has shown more grit this year and fought their way back into games that might have gotten away from them over the past couple of seasons. Boise State was one example of that, and they battled back a couple of times against Missouri despite the loss.
The defense allows some yards but can be stubborn in the red zone and take points away from their opponents. More of the same would be very welcome against Tulane.
Score Prediction: Memphis 35, Tulane 28
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