Houston Cougars quarterback Clayton Tune drops back for a pass against Tulane during the 2022 American Athletic Conference opener on Sept. 30. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)
The Houston Cougars were unable to hold off the Tulane Green Wave late as they fell 27-24 in overtime in the American Athletic Conference opener.
Defense unable to exorcise late-game struggles
Houston’s defense was unable to close the door against an opponent once again. After facing similar situations against UTSA, Texas Tech and Rice, the UH defense had a chance to ice the game if it could stop the Tulane offense.
Instead, the Green Wave went on an 11-play, 75-yard drive in 2:25 to tie the game at 21. The Green Wave had chunk plays of 33 and 23 yards help boost the touchdown drive. Tulane did it with quarterback Kai Horton, the team’s third-string quarterback, who came into the game after usual starting quarterback Michael Pratt did not play due to an undisclosed injury. Backup Justin Ibieta was ruled out after getting hurt on the Green Wave’s first drive of the game.
In Tulane’s first overtime possession, the Green Wave were able to score a touchdown as Horton found running back Tyjae Spears in the end zone for the 10-yard game-winning touchdown.
Offense delivers late in regulation
The Houston Cougars (2-3, 0-1 AAC) found themselves in a seven-point deficit to start the fourth quarter against Tulane. UH started a crucial drive with 14:25 left in the final period. A nine-yard catch by Christian Trahan started things out for the Cougars.
The play of the drive, and arguably of the game, was made by receiver Kesean Carter. With several Tulane defensive players crashing down on quarterback Clayton Tune on a third-and-4, it looked like he was about to get hit when he threw a wobbly ball towards a crowded field.
Above all the players was Carter, who skied and caught the ball. He then turned around and turned the near disaster into a 41-yard gain. Three plays later, Houston tied the game with a touchdown from running back Brandon Campbell.
Houston followed the scoring drive with another long one after the defense forced a quick Tulane three-and-out. The Cougars marched down the field on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that saw Tune scramble multiple times.
Tune hit running back Stacy Sneed on a pass that he turned into 15 yards. The drive ended with a 14-yard touchdown by receiver Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell on a toss into the end zone that gave Houston a 21-14 lead.
Despite the success late, Houston’s offense was unable to score a touchdown on the first possession of overtime and settled for a field goal.
Offensive struggles continue
Despite the late heroics, the offense struggled for much of the game against Tulane. As it has been for a majority of the season, the Houston Cougars struggled to get anything on offense in the first half and things did not start off any better in the third quarter.
Houston’s first three drives were a punt, a blocked field goal, and a punt. On the field goal attempt, the Cougars had to call timeout on kicker Bubba Baxa’s initial try at the 54-yard kick that just missed wide right. On the second attempt, the kick was blocked by Tulane senior defensive lineman Tylo Phillips.
After scoring a touchdown on a turnover by Tulane, Houston’s next three drives were back-to-back punts and a fumble that was forced by Tulane linebacker Nick Anderson and returned by the Green Wave for a 57-yard touchdown.
Making the most of a Tulane mistake
Houston took advantage of a mistake by the Green Wave to get on the board for the first time in the evening. Horton was ruled to have fumbled the ball towards the middle of the second quarter.
Houston’s offense took over at Tulane’s 29-yard line. Seven plays later, UH was in the end zone. The drive ended with a one-yard touchdown on fourth-down on a pass from Tune to receiver Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell.
The Houston Cougars committed nine penalties that were accepted against the Green Wave. It was the first time all season that UH did not commit at least 10 penalties that were accepted in a single game.