Tulane’s challenges continue with tall order at No. 2 Oklahoma

NCAA Football

Tulane coach Willie Fritz is trying to keep things in perspective as his Green Wave prepare to open the season with an unexpected trip to No. 2 Oklahoma on Saturday.

“We got a curveball,” Fritz said. “We’ve just got to adjust to it. Our players are really champing at the bit to play a high-caliber team like Oklahoma.”

The game was supposed to be played at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium, but Hurricane Ida forced it to be moved to Norman instead, although Tulane will remain the designated home team, for whatever that is worth.

The Green Wave left New Orleans on Saturday night, about 24 hours before the hurricane made landfall, and moved to Birmingham, Ala., to continue preparing for the game.

Saturday’s game might not be the only contest on Tulane’s schedule affected by the storm.

The Green Wave have another home game scheduled for Sept. 11 against Morgan State and then against Alabama-Birmingham on Sept. 25. Tulane’s campus is currently closed through Sept. 12, and in-person classes at the school aren’t scheduled to resume until at least Oct. 7.

For now, though, the Tulane football team’s focus is on the Sooners, a squad with sky-high expectations, especially after winning eight consecutive games to end last season.

“I feel like we’re ready to play,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said. “We’re ready to go play somebody else, ready to see what this young team is going to look like early in the season, how young guys are going to come along, the chemistry, adapting to all that’s new.

“We’ll get a good litmus test Saturday about where we’re at.”

The Sooners haven’t lost a nonconference game on their home field since falling to Ohio State in 2016 and haven’t lost to an unranked nonconference opponent anywhere since 2005.

Among the biggest reasons for optimism are the development of Spencer Rattler at quarterback and the improvement of the defense a year ago in the second season under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.

Rattler enters the season among the favorites for the Heisman Trophy after coming on strong over the second half of last season, his first as a starter.

“Something I feel like I’ve gotten better at is just my decision making,” Rattler said. “Being more consistent. Not turning the ball over.”

After preaching the importance of takeaways since his arrival, Grinch’s defense finally forced turnovers in bunches late last season, getting 14 in the final six games after recording just 16 in the first 19 games of his tenure.

“A few years back, I would say it was just like, ‘Coach Grinch is just saying all these things,’ and we’re just like, ‘OK, we got to do this,'” Sooners linebacker Nik Bonitto said. “I feel like it really didn’t start clicking until those things actually started happening. Like once people started running to the ball, like, we’ve seen it can work. Once you start getting takeaways, we see it equals victory.

“A lot of those things that he preaches — once we started doing it, it all started coming into fruition and we started believing it and trusting in what he’s saying.”

–Field Level Media

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