Two drives in, it appeared we had a blowout on our hands at the Armed Forces Bowl. We did, just not in the direction it appeared at the time.
Southern Miss jumped out to a 13-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game on two Jack Abraham touchdowns, a 44-yard strike to Quez Watkins and a 3-yard rush.
Over the final 50 minutes, though, Tulane ran off 30 unanswered points to score a 30-13 win.
The win moves Tulane to 7-6 on the season and gives the Green Wave bowl wins in consecutive seasons for the first time in the program’s 127-year history.
The comeback was slow moving. After gaining just 75 yards in the first half and scoring only on two 31-yard Merek Glover field goals, the Tulane offense caught fire in the third quarter behind the arm of Justin McMillan.
The Wave took the ball to open the second half and rolled 77 yards in five plays, scoring on a 52-yard strike to Oklahoma State transfer Jalen McCleskey. (That drive nearly perfectly mirrored Southern Miss’s drive to open the game.)
After a third Glover field goal put Tulane in the lead, the Wave defense broke the game open when Larry Brooks intercepted a pass and, combined with his return, an unsportsmanlike conduct flag gave Tulane the ball at the Southern Miss 2-yard line. After a false start, McMillan pushed Tulane’s lead to 23-13 with a 7-yard strike to Jacob Robertson, Jr.
McMillan then all but ended the game at the 1:54 mark of the third quarter when he fired his third touchdown pass of the frame, a 20-yard lob to a wide open Amare Jones.
After starting slowly, McMillan earned player of the game honors for hitting 13-of-18 passes for 215 yards and three scores. He also rushed 15 times for 39 yards.
A key moment in Tulane’s comeback, though, had very little to do with Tulane.
Abraham injured his shoulder on his final pass of the first half and did not return; he finished the game 17-of-23 for 167 yards with a touchdown. With Abraham out, backup Tate Whatley played the entire second half and simply was not ready for that level of exposure. The sophomore went 9-of-22 for 134 yards with two interceptions.
Neither quarterback got much help from the running game, as the Eagles (7-6) finished with 58 yards on 23 carries.
After gaining 139 yards on 19 plays over their first two drives, Southern Miss’ remaining 49 snaps gained just 220 yards and resulted in zero points. Tulane’s offense, meanwhile, gained 304 yards in the second half.