Houston vs. Tulane will be the first conference matchup of the season for both the Cougars and Green Wave when they take the field at TDECU Stadium on Sept. 30. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)
Houston (2-2) vs. Tulane (3-1)
Game time: 6 p.m. CT
TV/radio: ESPN/KPRC 950 AM
What’s at stake: Houston is looking to win its conference opener for the third straight season. The Cougars are seeking to start on the right foot in their final conference season in the American Athletic Conference.
When the Cougars have the ball: Houston will need more players outside of receiver Nathaniel Dell, who finished with seven catches for 134 yards and a touchdown against Rice, to make plays on offense. Against the Owls in Week 4, receiver Matthew Golden stepped up with four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown.
Running back Ta’Zhawn Henry also came up big in the ground game for Houston. He had 112 rushing yards and a touchdown in UH’s 34-27 win. Receiver Joseph Manjack IV also caught four passes for 46 yards in the win.
When Tulane has the ball: Houston defensive coordinator Doug Belk said Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt is a warrior who does not try to avoid defenders and instead tries to go through them. Pratt is averaging 226.3 passing yards and 49.3 rushing yards per game. He has thrown seven touchdowns and three interceptions and rushed for one touchdown this season.
Belk said Pratt can also step up in the pocket and make plays. Last season against Houston, Pratt was sacked eight times in UH’s win, but he also finished with 214 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Belk said that Tulane has multiple weapons on the perimeter at rece,iver, tight end and running back. The team’s length and speed will offer a tough challenge for Houston, he added.
The Green Wave has three rushers that have accumulated over 100 yards on the ground through four games in Tyjae Spears, Iverson Celestine, and Pratt. Tulane has five players with over 100 receiving yards heading into the matchup against Houston. Receiver Shae Wyatt leads the team with 184 receiving yards.
Key Cougars to watch: The position to watch for Houston will be the defensive line. After losing defensive end Derek Parish to a season-ending injury, the Cougars will need to rely on production from multiple players to fill the void left by him.
Defensive lineman D’Anthony Jones changed the game against Rice with back-to-back strip sacks, including the second one that was scooped by defensive lineman Nelson Ceaser and returned for a go-ahead touchdown.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen said the next step for Jones is consistency. Jones can change the game at any moment, Belk said on Tuesday.
On offense, Houston’s rushing attack will be impacted by the status of running back Brandon Campbell. He did not play against Rice and did not practice leading up to the game against the Owls; a UH spokesperson said last Saturday.
If he cannot go, the rushing responsibilities will primarily fall on Henry again. Running back Stacy Sneed also had 37 rushing yards against Rice.
The bottom line: Houston managed to hold on against Rice to avoid possibly falling to 1-3. Holgorsen was frustrated with the team’s penalty issues and bad execution against the Owls that left the door open for a potential comeback. The players said they have taken accountability for the mistakes at practice leading up to the game against the Green Wave.
The big goal for Houston is to win the AAC championship in December. A win against Tulane will be a positive step for the Cougars in their quest to achieve that goal.