We’ve been at war with Tulane
At first glance, it might seem misleading to describe the relationship between the Rice Owls and the Tulane Green Wave as a significant rivalry. The Oct. 28 contest at Rice Stadium will be the two teams’ first meeting since 2013, and the pair have shared a conference for only nine of their over-100 seasons of football. One would not expect such a mid-season matchup to be especially worthy of anticipation. In reality, however, there is every reason for Owls fans to await this Saturday with intrigue.
Rice’s budding feud with the Green Wave is one of precious few historic enmities in which the Owls may be able to maintain the series lead. Since the pair’s first gridiron clash in 1916 — Rice’s fourth year of football — the Owls have led the rivalry 20-15-1, winning six of nine conference contests from 2005 to 2013.
On the other hand, every other foe from Rice’s 1916 season either leads the Owls in the series, in the cases of the University of Texas, Texas A&M University and Southern Methodist University, or have not played them since the Truman administration, such as Southwestern University.
Rice’s historic enemies from the Southwest Conference have generally outpaced the Owls in football since the 1960s, commanding larger athletic budgets and a wider alumni pool to draw on for recruiting resources. While the rivalries the Owls have forged more recently in the Conference USA and now the American Athletic Conference are certainly more competitive, Rice has little historically, geographically or academically in common with many of these schools.
Taking these issues into account, Tulane has the makeup of a perfect prospective long-term rival. They are a similarly-sized university in very much the same part of the country with not dissimilar athletic woes, having the same number of NCAA team national championships as the Owls: one. Just as Rice has a lopsided rivalry with Texas, Tulane has gone 41 years without a win against Louisiana State University.
This is not at all to say that Tulane is a pushover team. In fact, the Green Wave’s football fortunes have been high of late. They finished 2022 as 12-2 AAC Champions and went on to win the Cotton Bowl against the same University of Southern California team that embarrassed Rice to start that season. Further, Tulane enters this game nationally ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press poll.
Rice is 1-31 against nationally ranked teams since 1998, but that one win was recent, against No. 15 ranked Marshall University in 2020. Rice is certainly capable of defeating Tulane Saturday, but not without playing at the absolute extreme of their ability. In the process, they have the opportunity to ignite a feud and cement a new era of Owl football as promised by Sept. 9’s victory over the University of Houston.
So, what’s making this 9,000-undergraduate school so good at football, and what can Rice do to stop it? The key is Tulane’s offense. It helps that the Green Wave have two returning First Team All-AAC offensive linemen, along with a quarterback who, coming into the season, lead returning AAC field generals in passing touchdowns. This hasn’t let up in 2023, with Michael Pratt boasting a 70.8% completion rate and 185.63 passer rating.
Rice has not struggled against the pass this season, allowing seven fewer passing touchdowns than they have scored and netting 77.3 yards in the air per game over their opponents; all efforts should be made to limit Tulane’s effectiveness in the air.
Where the Owls have struggled, and where the Green Wave’s superior offensive line will be a serious problem, is in stopping the run. Rice averages 48.9 fewer rushing yards per game than their opponents, and Tulane has a running back core solid enough to take advantage of this weakness, with their first three options averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
If the Owls can curb the Green Wave’s offensive potency, and cut down on turnovers when they get the ball, Rice Stadium may see the beginning of a beautiful enmity this Saturday at 3 p.m.
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