Tulane’s no-loss November was fun while it lasted.
The Wave had done so well leading up to Thursday night’s contest that they actually had some of us talking about them in the same conversation as the AAC Championship. Patrick Carr and the Cougars, though, sent Willie Fritz’s club back into the harsh light of reality. Carr rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns while Houston quarterback Clayton Tune came in following an injury to D’Eriq King threw for another two scores en route to the Cougs’ 31-point win.
It wasn’t just Houston’s offense that smothered the Wave, however. Their opportunistic defense intercepted three passes held a Tulane offense that had averaged almost 30 points per game in the last three outings to a mere 17. All in all, the Cougars looked like anything but the team that dropped two consecutive games to Temple and SMU.
The Green Wave, on the other hand, was a far cry from the crew that upset both Memphis and USF this season. The passing offense struggled mightily with no scores and only had one receiver accumulate over 50 yards. Furthermore, the ground game, while better than last week, wasn’t enough to keep pace with the high-powered Cougars. Darius Bradwell led Tulane rushers with 89 yards.
It was ugly night for the Wave who suddenly find themselves on the brink of yet another season without a bowl game. Houston, now with eight wins, will (probably) be primed to make a run at an AAC title game appearance if SMU loses this weekend. Thursday evening’s game told us a lot about both programs as they move into the final week of the regular season.
The Good: There’s obviously no moral victories at this juncture of the season but at least for Tulane their ground game, which is their bread and butter, got rolling again (somewhat) after falling stagnant last week. Green Wave rushers put up over 200 yards and found the end zone twice. The Wave now has at least one rushing touchdown in nine of their 11 games this year. Still, it would be nice to see someone put up a 100-yard performance next week against Navy. It’s now been two weeks without an individual hitting the century mark.
The Cougars defense finally got their act together after failing to show up against the Mustangs and the Owls. We were starting to wonder if this unit would be MIA for the rest of the season but after notching four turnovers against Tulane and 73 total tackles (five for loss) it certainly seems they’re back. Good news because Memphis is right around the corner.
The Bad: Like we just said while praising the Cougars defense, turnovers cost the Wave dearly in this one. Quarterback Justin McMillan threw his first two picks of the year while freshman backup Dane Ledford added another. Throw in a lost fumble on top of that and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Simply put, if Tulane doesn’t protect the ball better they won’t win next week when they absolutely need to.
For as dominant as Houston’s win was, they still don’t control their own destiny in the AAC West even at 5-2 in conference play. They will need SMU to lose at least once more if they want any shot of making a trip the conference championship. The Mustangs have the tiebreaker thanks to a head-to-head win earlier this year.
The Ugly: Getting caught behind the chains has been a problem all season for Tulane and Thursday in Houston was no different. The Wave went 5-for-13 on third down (38.4%) and 0-for-2 on fourth. On the season they have converted just 34.5% of their third down tries and rank near the bottom of the FBS.
King’s knee injury spells bad news for Houston. Prior to Thursday’s contest, he was the nation’s leader in touchdown passes (35) and point production (290). If his injury turns out to be something serious, which it very well could be as he was spotted on crutches later in the game, the Cougars could be in trouble. We’ll hold our breath and wait.
Tulane’s Silver Lining: Despite the loss, the Green Wave defensive front looks mighty scary. Eight tackles for loss and three sacks was impressive and is on par for what the team has been doing this season. In total, the unit has authored 32 sacks this year and ends Patrick Johnson and Carlos Hatcher are a large reason why. They are still underclassmen and could be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks for years to come. Be excited about these guys Wave fans.
Final Thoughts: The formula for Tulane is simple now: win next week and get bowl eligibility, lose and miss out on postseason action. While it’s not ideal to be in this position heading into the last game, at least they still have a chance. Remember when this team was 2-5 and some of us were throwing in the towel back in October? Let’s not let Thursday’s rough game overshadow the fact that the Wave fought back from the edge of the abyss. A win against the Midshipmen next Saturday would go a long way in numbing the disappointment from last night’s loss.
As far as the Cougars are concerned they need to take care of business against Memphis and hope for either the Tigers or Tulsa to hand SMU a loss. If those two scenarios occur, then Houston will find itself back in the AAC Championship for the first time since 2015. But even if they miss out on a conference title, the Cougs will most certainly be bowling when December gets here; another nice accomplishment for Major Applewhite’s club.