NOVEMBER 16, 2017

Tulane Football: Previewing the Houston Cougars

In an up-and-down year, the Coogs have been up lately

By JP Gooderham

Tulane Football (4-6) will host the Houston Cougars (6-3) in the penultimate game of the 2017 season.

Of course, as the final home game of the year, this will mark Senior Day as the Green Wave says its goodbye from Uptown to an outstanding crop of seniors.

On Defense, those Seniors include Parry Nickerson, Ade Aruna, Jarrod Franklin, Luke Jackson, Quinlan Carroll, Eldrick Washington, and Sean Wilson. Typing that just gave me some anxiety for next year. Dang.

And on offense, you can't forget about Dontrell Hilliard (who is closing his career by rewriting several records in Tulane's all-time history for RBs) as well as Sherman Badie.

Here's what you need to know about the game.

Where to Watch?

Yulman. If you're in town, we have a 3 PM start time for this one. It's the last game, a chance to celebrate the seniors, and a critical last stand for the Wave.

If you're not in town, the game is being broadcast nationally on ESPN News and will stream on Watch ESPN.

Who is Predicted to Win?

Houston is, as you would expect. The Coogs have been outstanding the last few weeks, as they took down a ranked USF on the road and then took care of business against East Carolina (Houston was on bye last week).

Vegas likes Houston by 9.5 points -- a drop in the bucket to last year's mammoth 26 point spread on this game.

SB Nation's Football Study Hall gives Tulane more than a puncher's chance -- their analytics system considers the Coogs a touchdown favorite with the Green Wave winning 34% of the time.

What do we know about Houston?

The first half of 2017 was quite strange, as the Coogs immediately went on the road and took down one of the rising Power Six (yep, going there) programs of 2017: Arizona.

From there though, the Coogs had some adversity, including losing to Texas Tech, sneaking past Temple 20-13, and getting smoked by Tulsa 45-17 (scratches head, remembers transivite property isn't real in CFB, moves on).

They've been playing their best football since then, however (technically a week later after they lost giving up a big lead to Memphis).

Giving King the Keys

After starting the season with former #1 ranked pro style QB Kyle Allen (and a former starter at TAMU) under center, the Coogs turned eventually to Kyle Allen for the Temple game to utilize his running ability. Bunch of dudes named Kyle on this team, I guess.

That didn't get the party started, but sometimes you get lucky. The Tom Herman show had stashed D'Eriq King, a former TCU commit, on the roster. King was still playing WR part time when he was called into action against South Florida.

The rest was history. On the final drive of the game, he completed a jump ball 4th and 24 and then took down the undefeated Bulls by breaking away on a 3rd and 9 to find paydirt.

He made his first college start the next week against East Carolina, and he continued to roll, as he holds a 65% completion percentage through his first 1.5 games with 5 touchdowns to 0 interceptions.

Not a bad start for a kid who was in the WR meeting room for most of this season. As you would expect with that profile, King can run, and he did a lot of that against South Florida.

What impressed me against ECU, however, is that he looks really dang confident throwing the deep ball.

Don't get me wrong. He's good. But man, ECU did absolutely nothing to get pressure on the young passer, and he torched the Pirates all day for it, as Pro Football Focus noted:

Tulane has the DBs to compete with a talented set of WRs in this Houston offense, but it needs to start up front on Saturday. For Tulane to make it happen on Saturday, they need to successfully dial up the blitzes and put pressure on this quarterback.

How about the heralded Houston Defense?

Yeah, they're really good. Of course, former blue chip DT Ed Oliver is doing Ed Oliver things. He has 10 tackles for loss this season, and he is personally responsible for 14 run stuffs.

ECU actually put up solid offensive numbers against Houston, but they did it by completely flying over Oliver. The Pirates threw the ball 71 times, which won't be an option against the Green Wave.

One more interesting note from the stats: Football Study Hall does a breakdown of your team's performance quarter-by-quarter. In Houston's case, their Defense is ranked #5 and #23 in the country in the 1st and 2nd quarters respectively. But then... they tend to drop off a bit, falling to #83 and #55.

Memphis was able to exploit Houston taking the foot off the pedal in the second half, as they followed up a goose egg first half with 42 points in the 2nd to take home the W.

Other Thoughts on Houston?

One other note on the offense under King: at least against ECU, they really like to go tempo. King runs the offense well this way, and he looked pretty confident getting plays off quickly and tiring out the Pirates.

A final thing that jumped out to me was that the Coogs have been pretty average this year with turnover margin (they are dead even 0 in margin for the year, good for #65 in the country -- Tulane is +5).

How about the Green Wave?

A few highlights from the trip to Greenville that are still top of mind for me:

Bad Mooney Rising

How about Darnell Mooney? Mooney followed up his first 100+ yard college game against Cincy with a rock solid 67 yard, 6 catch stat line that included a really nice grab to bring the Wave into the red zone.

Mooney showed promise last year. This season, he's executing. He's hauling in 61% of his targets, which is the highest of any Green Wave player with 5 or more targets this season. He's right behind Encalade with 42 targets to Teddy's 43.

Don't forget, Terren Encalade continues to be a major factor, of course. Let's take a second to appreciate this critical catch that Teddy pulled off last week.

Respecting the Don

With back-to-back games against teams that like to throw the deep ball coming up, the emergence of Donnie Lewis could not come at a better time.

Lewis broke up 6 passes on Saturday in a game that easily looks like one of his career best.

Put that next to Parry Nickerson, who hauled in one of the coolest interceptions of his career, and you have to be pretty happy. That was last week though, and Tulane's CBs will close the season with a couple more big tests, for sure.

Injury Report

Guerry Smith tweeted this out today:

Obviously good news here.


Still want more? You can listen to our FTWCast Preview of Houston this week with our friends from the S&H Pawdcast.