Ole Miss is a giant betting favorite over Tulane. Here's why that is — and isn't — fair
OXFORD — Vegas is betting on Ole Miss' offense to score an unreal number of points.
No. 16 Ole Miss (2-0) is favored to beat visiting Tulane (1-1) by 17.5 points according to the Tipico sportsbook when the two teams meet Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN2). Ole Miss and Tulane boast the nation's No. 6 and No. 3 scoring offenses, with the Green Wave averaging 52 points per game.
If Tulane hits that average, that means Ole Miss would have to score 70 points to cover the spread.
Of course, that's not what's expected to happen. The over-under points spread is 76.5, meaning the expected score is closer to 47-30. But is that a fair expectation for a Tulane team that only lost by five points at No. 3 Oklahoma just two weeks ago?
Let's take a look at why this gigantic spread is, and isn't, fair.
Ole Miss' passing efficiency is a plus
Tulane's defense kept itself in the game against Oklahoma with turnovers more than stops. The Green Wave limited Oklahoma's electric offense behind a turnover on downs, a missed field goal and, two crucial interceptions. Still, Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler completed 30 of his 39 pass attempts, roughly 77%.
Even FCS foe Morgan State had success completing passes against Tulane, connecting on 59% for three touchdowns. But between two interceptions and a lost fumble, Morgan State's mistakes were a bigger factor than offensive failings.
Contrast that with Ole Miss' offense. Quarterback Matt Corral hasn't thrown an interception in his last 120 pass attempts. Over the last two seasons he's completed 70% of his pass attempts and averaged 10.2 yards per pass attempt. In four years in Oxford, Corral has never thrown an interception in an Ole Miss win.
It's one thing to create turnovers when your opponent isn't moving the ball. It's another to create turnovers despite not playing particularly well otherwise. If Ole Miss' offense can remain as efficient as it has of late and not make self-inflicted errors, there's a path to scoring a ton of points versus Tulane.
An issue of sustainability
As much as Ole Miss' defense has improved, there's a disconnect between points allowed and the amount of yardage.
The Rebels' two opponents have led 24 drives, gaining a median distance of 38 yards per drive. Assuming average starting field position is about the 25-yard line, that means a median drive versus Ole Miss ends at the Rebels' 37, the cusp of field goal range. Despite that, Ole Miss is only allowing 1.7 points per drive, about half the value of a field goal.
All of this is to say Ole Miss might be a bit luckier than good defensively so far. Louisville lost a fumble and turned the ball over on downs in Ole Miss territory. Austin Peay turned the ball over on downs three times across the 50 and had the clock run out before the end of the first half in plus territory as well.
For a Tulane offense that is also averaging 38 yards per drive, keeping things close should come down to converting in plus territory instead of turning the ball over.
A matter of variety
Tulane's offense doesn't make it easy to key in on one or two targets. Six players are averaging more than 20 rushing yards per game and seven average more than 20 receiving yards.
It's always easier to slow down an offense when you know what you need to take away. Tulane doesn't allow teams to do that. Few teams are more run-pass balanced than Tulane and even fewer use such a variety of weapons to achieve success. If Ole Miss wants to slow down the Green Wave, it'll need all 11 starters to playing well, a harder feat to achieve given the relative newness of the Rebels' scheme and many of the players.
Tulane is better than the line is giving it credit for. Ole Miss' defense is maybe over-performing its expected results and the Green Wave's offense is too talented and multiple to make the same mistakes Louisville and Austin Peay did.
That said, Ole Miss' offense is less prone to volatile mistakes than Oklahoma and Morgan State were. If the Rebels can play their brand of offense, this can be an easy win. If Tulane takes Ole Miss out of its game, things could very easily stay close for four quarters.
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or email@example.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.