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Houston vs. Tulsa Preview

Just what the doctor ordered: an up-tempo shootout to cleanse the palate.

NCAA Football: Houston at Navy Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Location: TDECU Stadium, Houston, Texas — 7 p.m. EST

TV: ESPN 2

STREAM: WATCH ESPN

BETTING LINE: Houston -21 according to Oddsshark (though the line has had some movement since it opened)

Houston’s record: 5-1, 2-1

Tulsa’s record: 4-1, 1-0

Previous 10 years: The matchup dates back to 1950, but took a hiatus for more than a decade. It restarted in 2005 and since that time, Houston has won 7 of 10 meetings.


Game Outlook

Last week was ... unpleasant.

Let’s choke down the medicine and get it over with:

  • Houston is almost surely out of contention for the College Football Playoff.
  • The Cougars will need help from Navy just to make it into the AAC championship game.

This week’s medicine:

  • Linebacker Tyus Bowser will be out for 4-6 weeks after Steven Taylor literally broke Bowser’s face during a team building exercise that didn’t so much build a team as it built a new bone structure around Bowser’s right eye. If Houston is lucky, Bowser will be back for the Louisville game on Nov. 17.
  • Guard Marcus Oliver will miss the Tulsa game with a high ankle sprain.
  • Duke Catalon (concussion) has not been cleared to play, nor has he been officially ruled out.

Good. Now let’s turn our attention to better things:

  • Taylor is back from the one-game suspension he incurred after the fight with Bowser.
  • Brandon Wilson is back after missing 3 games with a “lower leg injury.”
  • The Cougars are not playing Navy again, with its physical, pounding rushing attack.

BUT, they’re playing Tulsa, which can put up yards on the ground and through the air.

Here are some stats that might scare you: In the each of the past two games, Tulsa had two running backs top 100 rushing yards and two receivers go over 100 yards.

In those two games, Tulsa’s offense put up 562 and 607 yards of offense, respectively.

Now, here’s the context: The first game was a 48-41 double overtime win against Fresno State that required Tulsa to come back from a 31-point deficit.

The second game — last week — was a 43-40 overtime win against SMU in which Tulsa led for fewer than 10 minutes of the contest.

So, Tulsa can put up yards and points, but its defense gives up plenty of yards and the offense is prone to giving away turnovers.

NCAA Football: Houston at Navy
Houston Cougars quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs between Navy Midshipmen defenders.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

On Houston’s sideline, this game needs to be a commitment to the run with someone not named Greg Ward. The zone-read offense works best when the quarterback is a THREAT to run, not the entire running game itself.

Ward did it last year and he was great. He’s doing it again this year and he’s been good, but he’s taking a beating and the offense isn’t as dangerous or as versatile if opposing defenders don’t respect the running back as much as they respect Ward.

Go look at J.T. Barrett’s rushing stats at Ohio State this year and in 2014. In 2014, he had good numbers, but he was second in carries to the obvious workhorse of Ezekiel Elliott. This season, he’s second in carries to Mike Weber and third in yards behind Weber and Curtis Samuel.

Marcus Mariota at Oregon was never higher than second in carries as a starter from 2012-2014. He was one of several great rushing options, which kept him mostly healthy and kept the offense unpredictable.

Tim Tebow is an obvious exception to this “rule.” He was Florida’s leading ball carrier from 2007-2009. He was also 6’2” and at least 220 pounds. Ward is generously listed at 5’11” and 185 pounds.

Dillon Birden, Mulbah Car and Kevrin Justice have done a decent job of filling in for Catalon, but they need to step it up. Houston has to receive more consistent support from the running game to keep Ward healthy and help open up the passing game.

And it’s not like the passing game is struggling to put up numbers. But the entire offense could just function more smoothly and easily if the Cougars had a running back to rely on as the primary rushing option so they could use Ward as a secondary weapon.

Ok, that’s the end of the rant. Ultimately, Houston will rebound with another relatively high-scoring win. Tulsa will get its yards and score a couple touchdowns, but the Cougars will (hopefully) be very angry and use this opportunity to run wild.

Prediction

Houston wins, 41-20.