NEW ORLEANS — Michael Pratt used his feet and his right arm to dissect SMU's defense with ruthless efficiency and send Tulane into a high-stakes regular-season finale with no shortage of confidence.
Pratt passed for three touchdowns and ran for three scores, and No. 21 Tulane capitalized on a slew of SMU mistakes to beat the Mustangs 59-24 on Thursday night.
“I didn’t know it was going to be like that,” Pratt said of the resounding end to SMU's seven-game winning streak in the series. “I thought a little bit more of a shootout. Defense did a phenomenal job. On offense, we just took care of the ball, marched down the field and scored.”
Tulane running back Tyjae Spears carried 13 times for 121 yards — his fifth straight game eclipsing 100 yards rushing — and finished with two TDs rushing and one receiving.
“Just a hard-running dude — got great speed and lateral movement,” said Tulane coach Willie Fritz, whose offense totaled 310 yards on the ground. “You’re not going to arm tackle him. When you can run it effectively, it opens everything up.”
Now Tulane (9-2, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) can clinch a berth in the conference title game by winning its regular-season finale at Cincinnati.
SMU (6-5, 4-3) came in as one of the top offenses in the AAC, averaging 486.4 yards and a league-high 40.3 points per game. But the Mustangs were plagued by dropped passes and five turnovers as they dropped out of contention for a conference title game berth.
“Their defense has been really good, No. 1 in our league all year for a reason,” SMU coach Rhett Lashlee said. “They don’t give up explosive plays. We knew that. So you could tell when we fell behind, it was just tough.”
Tanner Mordecai was intercepted twice and lost a fumble when he was sacked by Darius Hodges. SMU fumbled five times in all, losing three.
“You can’t turn the ball over five times, give up 300 yards rushing and beat anybody at any level of football,” Lashlee said. “We pretty much did everything you can do to get beat and got our teeth kicked in.”
The Mustangs' first turnover came on a muffed punt by Roderick Daniels that Tulane long snapper Ethan Hudak recovered on the SMU 7. That set up Spears' TD reception to make it 21-0 late in the first quarter.
A muffed punt by Tulane returner Jha'Quan Jackson deep in Green Wave territory looked like a potential momentum changer when SMU immediately converted that break into a 19-yard TD pass from Mordecai to RJ Maryland. But the Green Wave responded quickly with Pratt's 26-yard, tackle-slipping scoring run.
Tulane opened the second half by widening its lead to 35-7 on Pratt's floating, 26-yard timing pass to Shae Wyatt, who made an over-the-shoulder catch and narrowly got his feet in bounds before falling out of the left side of the end zone.
One play after Tulane safety Lummie Young intercepted Mordecai, Pratt found Wyatt again — this time well behind the SMU defense for a 46-yard score that made it 49-7.
“We just stayed on their necks, stayed playing our style of football for four quarters,” said Tulane linebacker Nick Anderson, who had a game-high 12 tackles. “We’ve been losing to those guys for a minute. So, it feels good to finally get a win on the board against them.”
SMU: The Mustangs' error-filled performance belied their recent form. SMU entered the game having won four of five — with its lone loss in that stretch by just 2 points to No. 22 Cincinnati on Oct. 22 — to get back in the AAC race.
Tulane: After struggling a week earlier to stop UCF running QB John Rhys Plumlee, Tulane's conference-leading defense returned to form against SMU's pass-heavy attack.
“Last week we played an athletic team that really got us out of our scheme,” Anderson said. "This week we just emphasized going back to our basics, doing what we do best, which is running around making tackles and covering.”
The Green Wave handed SMU its most lopsided loss of the season. Pratt became the fourth QB this season to have at least three TDs passing and rushing in one game. The others are LSU's Jayden Daniels, Oregon's Bo Nix and Plumlee. Wyatt finished with three catches for 104 yards.
SMU: Hosts Navy on Nov. 19.
Tulane: Visits Cincinnati on Nov. 25.