Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Date/Time: 1/4/20 11:30 AM ET
You can watch on: ESPN
Betting: Tulane -7, O/U 56.5
Previous Game: Southern Miss – L, FAU, 34-17; Tulane – L, SMU, 37-20
Battle of the Bell
Unless you’ve played EA’s NCAA Football or happen to be a college football historian, you have probably never heard of the “Battle for the Bell”. Southern Mississippi and Tulane met every year from 1979 to 2006. This was an intense rivalry because the schools are only 112 miles apart. The series is lopsided, though, as USM leads the all time series 23-7. Both schools were founding members of Conference USA and started playing conference football games in 1996.
They started playing less when CUSA split into East and West divisions in 2005, having only met 3 times since then. The series was killed when Tulane left CUSA for the AAC in 2014. 3 years later, Tulane and USM decided to renew the rivalry and signed an agreement to play a 4 game home-and-home series beginning in the 2022 season. “The Bell” has been in Hattiesburg for 16 years. Can Tulane get it back, or will Southern Miss continue their series dominance?
Golden Eagle Air Attack
If Southern Miss is going to extend the series lead and win its 13th bowl game, they will do it with the arm of redshirt junior quarterback Jack Abraham. Abraham ranks 17th in the FBS with 3,329 passing yards and is one of the best quarterbacks in Conference USA. He has completed 66% of his passes and thrown 18 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. Southern Miss has a talented receiving corps, led by thousand-yard receiver Quez Watkins. Tim Jones and Jaylond Adams are Abraham’s other top targets. Southern Miss will look to exploit the mismatches with their big receivers against Tulane’s secondary.
Coach Jay Hopson’s spread offense is predicated on attacking the defense down the field, but they also run the ball with success. 500-yard rushers Kevin Perkins and De’Michael Harris share the workload in the USM backfield.
The defensive numbers for Southern Miss are also good. The Golden Eagles rank 36th in the FBS in total defense and 54th in scoring defense. The key for Southern Miss will be stopping the run. USM ranks 18th in Rushing Defense, giving up only 112 ypg. This may have something to do with playing in a pass-happy conference, but it’s still good. The Golden Eagles will need to play with good gap integrity and contain Tulane quarterback Justin McMillan when he pulls the ball.
While the secondary isn’t a strength (95th in Defensive Passing Efficiency), they should still try to force Tulane to throw. McMillan is a good athlete and has a strong arm, but he often struggles with his accuracy. The Wave ranks 89th in Passing Offense and 73rd in Team Passing Efficiency. The Golden Eagles will try to force run-heavy Tulane to beat them with the pass.
After losing 3 games in a row and 5 of the last 6, Tulane is looking to right the ship. A second straight bowl win would go a long way in doing so for the Green Wave, which is playing in only its 5th bowl in the last 30 years. For the Wave to defeat their former CUSA overlords, they must establish the run. Justin McMillan is a dangerous runner and led Tulane with 704 yards. Running backs Darius Bradwell (448 yards) and Corey Dauphine (569 yards) are tough to tackle, especially for a tired defense. Tulane will try to wear Southern Miss down and keep the Golden Eagles’ prolific offense on the sidelines.
That being said, it’s unlikely that Southern Miss will simply let Tulane run it down their throats, so Justin McMillan will need to complete some passes to keep the Golden Eagles honest. Southern Miss is a good defense overall, but they have problems in the secondary. Senior receivers Jalen McClesky and Darnell Mooney are big playmakers for the Green Wave offense and could exploit that weakness.
Drowning the Eagles
On defense, Tulane faces a familiar scheme. Week after week, the Green Wave played against efficient pass-heavy offenses, and Southern Miss is no different. The Wave will need its pass rushers to pressure Jack Abraham to help its secondary out. Rushing the quarterback has been a weakness for Tulane this season (18 sacks), but they can’t allow Abraham to stand comfortably in the pocket to pick the secondary apart. The Wave has struggled at times with giving up big passing plays, but still rank 42nd in the NCAA in Defensive Passing Efficiency. They biggest key for the Wave will be limiting explosive plays and keeping USM’s backs and receivers in front of them.
Tulane and Southern Miss are roughly equal in terms of talent. I think this will be a close game that will come down to which team is more motivated and makes the fewest mistakes.