When Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette face off in the New Orleans Bowl, the intrastate rivalry will hinge on the performance of a handful of players.
UL-Lafayette is looking to continue its latest tradition. In the 38 seasons before Mark Hudspeth took over as head coach in 2011, the Ragin' Cajuns had never made a single bowl appearance. They have travelled south to the New Orleans Bowl in each of the past two seasons, and they have won both times.
The Ragin' Cajuns will look to take their explosive offense to the Superdome. If they can put their playmakers in the best position to succeed, they'll emerge victorious yet again.
That said, they face an unusual challenge this season: When they meet Tulane, they will be playing on the Green Wave's home field.
Prior to this season, Tulane had not appeared in a bowl game since winning the 2002 Hawaii Bowl. The Green Wave made it back to postseason play this season behind their defense, but they will have to keep pace with their upstate opponent to have a chance at winning.
QB Terrance Broadway, UL-Lafayette
Of course, Tulane's task will be significantly easier if Terrance Broadway can't suit up for the Cajuns.
After breaking his throwing arm on November 30, Broadway is being considered a game-time decision just three weeks later, per Trey Iles of The Times-Picayune. Given what Hudspeth is saying, his starting quarterback will not be himself even if he does play.
“It’s the old adage we’ve got to decide if, first of all, is he going to be okay to put him in the game?,’’ Hudsepth said. “Can he stay healthy if we put him in? And also by putting him in can he be effective? He won’t be 100 percent. We still have two days to decide. But right now, the freshmen are looking pretty good.’’
Broadway was the engine behind the Ragin' Cajun offense this season. He picked up big chunks of yardage through the air with 9.2 yards per passing attempt, throwing for 19 touchdowns and adding another eight on the ground himself.
If the junior QB is unable to go, either Brooks Haack or Jalen Nixon, both of whom are redshirt freshman, will take his place under center. That makes the difference between an imposing UL-Lafayette attack and a very beatable one.
RBs Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire, UL-Lafayette
Considering UL-Lafayette's limitations at quarterback, the team will need to lean even more heavily on its backfield.
Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire have given the Cajuns a thunder-and-lightening tandem at the running back position.
The steady vet in his junior year, Harris has taken the bulk of the carries, churning out 4.7 yards per rush on 186 reps and scoring 13 times. He'll give his team a reliable source of offense if the passing game struggles, although he should see tighter running lanes if the QBs struggle.
Fortunately, Harris' backup has the game-breaking ability to create space for himself.
As a true freshman, McGuire has dominated both on the ground and through the air. He has run for 818 yards and seven touchdowns on just 92 carries, tacking on 290 yards and three more scores on 15 catches. That's good for 10.4 yards per touch, making him very dangerous despite his limited experience.
QB Nick Montana, Tulane
On the other side, the Green Wave will need production out of their own passing game to defend their home field.
Nick Montana has been shaky throwing the ball this season, completing just 53.1 percent of his passes and averaging only 5.3 yards per attempt. Even if Broadway isn't fully healthy on the other side, Montana's usual play isn't going to cut it.
The low completion percentage deflates that YPA figure, and it's instructive on what Montana needs to do against the Cajuns. If he can be more efficient on his deeper throws, his yards per attempt will look more favorable, and the Green Wave will be able to match UL-Lafayette more easily.
WR Ryan Grant, Tulane
A big game from Montana's top receiving option will surely do the quarterback well.
Fifth-year senior Ryan Grant has played for four different head coaches and weathered four losing seasons as a member of the Green Wave. Now he's finally winning at Tulane, and he'll be hungrier than anyone to go out with a victory.
Standing 6'1", 191 pounds, Grant is not exceptionally big, but he is still a real threat in the red zone. Though his 70 catches, 926 yards and 13.2 yards per attempt are all lower than his stats from his junior season, his nine touchdown receptions are a team high and a career high.
Only running back Orleans Darkwa has as many scores among position players, but the running game is going to be more of a focal point for UL-Lafayette. Offensively, it is imperative the Green Wave can put up points through the air, and that means Grant is going to have to come through one more time.
CB Jordan Batiste, Tulane
With seven interceptions and two touchdowns, Lorenzo Doss is the Green Wave's lockdown guy at cornerback, but Jordan Batiste gives the defense some much-needed versatility.
Batiste only picked off one pass this season, and at just 169 pounds, it doesn't seem like he'd be much help in anything other than pass coverage. But make no mistake: The kid can hit, leading the Green Wave with four forced fumbles while nearly always being lighter than the man he's tackling.
He'll also be instrumental in shutting down the Ragin' Cajun passing game by blitzing from the outside. Batiste creates havoc in the pocket, using his speed to rip around the edge and record 5.0 sacks on the year, second among Tulane players.
If he can get after the Cajun passer and turn some potential big gains into losses or even turnovers, his Green Wave will be positioned that much better to win.