NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Every pass Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt threw — from high, arching throws deep down field to quick strikes in the flat — hit the hands of his intended receiver.
Only one was dropped by Jha'Quan Jackson. But the speedy receiver made up for it — and then some.
Pratt completed 14 of 15 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns and the Green Wave beat South Alabama 37-17 on Saturday night.
“We took what was there — and there was a lot there,” Pratt said with a grin. “The offensive line did a great job holding up, keeping guys out of my face an the receivers did a phenomenal job winning and just made everything really easy for me.”
Three of Pratt's scoring passes came on deep throws. He hit Jackson for touchdowns of 48 and 47 yards and connected with Lawrence Keys on a 47-yard scoring play.
Looking to validate its first preseason AP Top 25 ranking against a season-opening opponent that won 10 games last season, the Green Wave raced to a 24-7 lead. South Alabama briefly closed within a touchdown in the third quarter before Tulane began to pull away again on an unconventional flea flicker.
Running back Shaadie Clayton-Johnson took a direct snap and handed off to Keys, who ran around the right end before pitching back to Pratt as Jackson streaked into the open field. Pratt's pass hit Jackson in stride to make it 31-17.
“Really nice,” Pratt said about the razzle-dazzle play. “It happened just how we wanted it to happen and, you know, kind of just a layup for me.”
Tulane kicker Valentino Ambrosio added two field goals for the final margin.
South Alabama quarterback Carter Bradley was 23 of 30 for 190 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice and also lost a fumble while being sacked by defensive tackle Kameron Hamilton in the fourth quarter. Bradley also rushed for a touchdown.
“We talk about winning the explosive play battle. We talk about winning the turnover margin. We did not do that,” South Alabama coach Kane Wommack said. “We threw the ball with some efficiency but we didn't make any big-time plays downfield.
“We just played losing football and that's exactly what the score and the game indicated,” Wommack added.
Tulane struck first after forcing the first of five South Alabama turnovers.
Defensive tackle Patrick Jenkins stripped running back La'Damian Webb and Lance Robinson recovered on the Jaguars' 38. On the next play, Pratt found Chris Brazzell down the left sideline for a 33-yard gain, setting up a 4-yard scoring pass to Brazzell two plays later.
Valentino Ambrosio's 29-yard field goal made it 10-0 before South Alabama closed the gap on Bradley's 4-yard scoring run in which he dove to reach the right pylon early in the second quarter.
The Wave restored its 10-point lead when Pratt threw deep down the middle to Jackson for a 47-yard score, and made it 24-7 when Pratt found Lawrence Keys for another 47-yard TD.
Tulane was in position to take a big lead into halftime after DJ Douglas intercepted Bradley. But two plays later, linebacker Khalil Jacobs was unblocked on a blitz and leveled Pratt from behind, forcing a fumble that South Alabama's Ke'Shun Brown recovered inside the 20.
Jenkins denied the Jaguars a touchdown with a third-down sack, and Diego Guajardo's 36-yard field goal cut Tulane's lead to 24-10 shortly before halftime.
South Alabama: An inability to stop the deep ball did in the Jaguars. They allowed five passes of between 33 and 48 yards.
“We said defensively we wanted to limit explosive plays,” Wommack said. “Then we got a very experienced secondary that put their eyes in the wrong place.”
Tulane: Pratt's pinpoint passing was complemented by a Green Wave defense that sacked Bradley five times, allowed just 75 yards rushing and produced four turnovers. (One of the Jaguars' turnovers was committed by its defense during a fumble return that gave the ball right back to Tulane's offense).
Tulane had to win to remain in the rankings — and did so convincingly against a team it was favored to beat by about a touchdown.
Pratt's four touchdowns gave him 72 for his career, tying the career mark set by Patrick Ramsey in 2001.
“I'm not really worried all the external stuff,” Pratt said. “When you prepare the way you're supposed to prepare and you execute and do your job, those types of things come. But all I'm really worried about is helping my team win.”
South Alabama: Hosts Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday.
Tulane: Hosts No. 22 Mississippi on Saturday.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll