Tulane is off to a good start in trying to win its second consecutive American Athletic Conference championship.
Rice is trying to stay in contention for the title in its first season in the AAC as it hosts the No. 22 Green Wave (6-1, 3-0) on Saturday in Houston.
Tulane is in a three-way tie for first while the Owls (4-3, 2-1) are coming off their most lopsided conference victory in 10 years — a 42-10 win at Tulsa on Oct. 19.
The Green Wave appeared headed to a lopsided victory of their own last Saturday when they took a 21-0 halftime lead against visiting North Texas but saw the Mean Green pull even before Michael Pratt ran for a tie-breaking touchdown with 2:34 left to produce a 35-28 victory.
“I do like the fact that we finished and that we were put in a bad situation and we came out of it with a win,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said. “That’s good, but you never know how these games are going to play out.”
Pratt, who also threw three touchdown passes, was named the AAC’s Offensive Player of the Week for a second time this season.
The Green Wave needed every one of his scores to hold off North Texas’ second-half surge.
In the first half, the Tulane defense ended three UNT possessions with fourth-down stops, forced two punts and recovered a fumble. In the second half, it allowed four consecutive touchdowns before getting another fourth-down stop as time expired.
“We need to play better on defense throughout the whole game,” Fritz said. “We played really well in the first half. We’ve just to continue for the whole ballgame.”
Rice had what coach Mike Bloomgren called “as complete a win as we’ve had against any FBS opponent” against Tulsa.
It was the Owls’ largest margin of victory in a conference game since a 52-14 victory against Louisiana Tech on Nov. 14, 2013.
The defense forced three turnovers and benefited from an offense that produced three touchdown drives of less than a minute each in the first half and two others that each ate more than eight minutes of clock in the second half.
“When you can do that,” Bloomgren said, “it makes the defense’s job easier.”
JT Daniels passed for 342 yards and two touchdowns and added a rushing touchdown. Dean Connors had 120 rushing yards and three touchdowns on just nine carries.
Rice, which left Conference USA to join the AAC, knows this game will demonstrate how it matches up against one of the top teams in its new league.
“This is not the kind of football team we played in our conference last year,” Bloomgren said of the Green Wave. “This is a team that looks a lot more like Texas or Houston.”
The Owls, who didn’t turn the ball over last week, hope to repeat the type of execution that enabled them to outgain Tulsa 512-294 and possess the ball for nearly 34 minutes.
“In order to beat Tulane, who’s a really solid team,” Connors said, “we’re going to have to do that all over again and do it better.”