The Oklahoman

Tulane gave Sooners a scare early in 2017

- Berry Tramel

The 2017 OU-Tulane game was played exactly one week after one of the highlights of the Sooners’ 21st century, a 31-16 thrashing of Ohio State in the Buckeyes’ Horseshoe.

OU was a 33-point favorite over the Green Wave that night at Owen Field. But things didn’t go well early.

Willie Fritz’s spread option offense had the Sooner defense in tatters in the first quarter.

In 2017, Tulane took leads of 7-0 and 14-7 with touchdown drives of 65 yards in eight plays and 75 yards in nine plays.

The exuberance of the Ohio State conquest was gone. Murmurs sifted through the crowd. Murmurs or outright complainin­g about Mike Stoops’ defense. Especially when the Green Wave kept it up in the second quarter and used four first downs to drive to the OU 25-yard line.

Then Parnell Motley stepped in front of a Tulane receiver and returned an intercepti­on 77 yards for a go-ahead TD. Stoops’ defense made significant adjustment­s and OU rolled 56-14. But it was hairy for awhile.

Fritz remains the Tulane coach, and his Green Wave returns to Owen Field on Saturday, after the game was relocated from New Orleans due to Hurricane Ida. Fritz doesn’t run as much option as Tulane did in 2017. And that’s not the only thing that’s changed.

“Defensivel­y they are totally different,” Fritz said of the Sooners. “But there are some things that are similar with the offense. Coach (Lincoln) Riley is calling it all now so there are a lot of similariti­es, but each year everybody evolves a little bit and they add things to their offense, their defense and their kicking game.

“This is the 2021 Sooners we will be playing, so there’s not a whole lot to take from playing them back a few years ago.”

Back in 2017, Tulane rushed for 184 yards in the first half alone, more than Ohio State had in the entire game against OU. The Green Wave had 157 total yards just in the first quarter.

But it was a mirage. In the 12-team American Conference, the 2017 Green Wave finished eighth in points per game (27.5) and 10th in total offense (391.5 yards per game).

The Sooner defense stabilized and became a middle-of-the-road Big 12 defense, ranking sixth in efficiency. The next year, the OU defense cratered and Stoops was fired at mid-season.

How has Tulane built upon that first quarter in Norman? The Green Wave were eighth in American scoring and total yards in 2018, fifth in both in 2019, and fourth in scoring but eighth in total offense last season.

Green Wave freshman quarterbac­k Michael Pratt was elusive last season and finished sixth in American Conference passing efficiency, with 20 touchdowns and eight intercepti­ons.

“They were pretty good offensively,” Riley said. “The thing you see with (Pratt), he’s an active guy. One thing you always look at defensivel­y. How does he move around? Can he beat you with his legs? Can he beat you in scramble situations? And he certainly can. We’re certainly expecting to see a natural jump for him, like you would with any quarterbac­k going into the next year of starting.

“You feel like you’re going to see a big jump, and we’ll probably see a bunch better player than we saw on tape. And we saw a very good player on tape.”

 ?? JAMES GUILLORY/USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Quarterbac­k Michael Pratt will lead the Tulane offense on Saturday against Oklahoma.
JAMES GUILLORY/USA TODAY SPORTS Quarterbac­k Michael Pratt will lead the Tulane offense on Saturday against Oklahoma.

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