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Houston overcomes slow start, thumps Tulane in first game of season

The Cougars had to withstand a 17-point hole but wound up winning comfortably against the Green Wave on Thursday night.

NCAA Football: Tulane at Houston Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt was forbidden from speaking with the media this week leading up to Thursday night’s game against Houston. Pratt, after all, is now one of only seven true freshman to start at QB for the Green Wave since 1975, joining a list highlighted by guys like Terrence Jones and Shaun King. Needless to say, he probably had a lot on his mind going in because... oh yeah... the game was ESPN’s Thursday night showcase for yet another year.

Thanks to Tulane’s defense, though, Pratt had to wait a little longer to make his first career start. After allowing a 30-yard reception from Cougars receiver Marquez Stevenson on the first play, the Green Wave D dialed up a blitz on fourth down of Houston’s opening drive and forced QB Clayton Tune into an errand throw that was intercepted by Macon Clark. Clark scampered 64 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, effectively silencing the crowd of 10,000 in TDECU Stadium.

Houston, who was playing their first game of 2020 thanks to cancelled contests earlier in the year, answered beautifully with a scoring drive of their own. Running back Mulbah Car capped off a six-play, 75-yard drive with a touchdown dash to tie it at 7-7 early in the first.

Once again, though, the Wave’s defense would sway momentum back to the visitor’s side. After a three-and-out by the Tulane offense, Tune found himself in trouble as grad-transfer Kevin Henry bore down unevaded and knocked the ball free. Jeffery Johnson jumped on it in the end zone and just like that the Greenies were up 14-7.

NCAA Football: Tulane at Houston
Tulane celebrates their defense’s second touchdown of the night in the first quarter.
Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Merek Glover tacked on a field goal, the defense forced another turnover and by the time the first quarter came to a close Tulane was up by 10 while Houston was reeling for answers.

The second frame, though, began just as poorly for the Cougs. Pratt dove in from a yard out stretching the Wave’s lead. More damning for Houston, though, was the fact that 21 of Tulane’s 24 points had come off of turnovers.

It was then that the tide began to shift. Tune and the Cougars offense rebounded again, driving 75 yards once more. Tune powered in on fourth and goal to cut the Green Wave lead to ten. Shortly after, the Houston D forced a quick punt and gave the ball back to the humming offense who promptly scored again. By halftime Tulane only led by three.

The second half saw a continued resurgence for the Cougs. After forcing a Wave punt, Houston drove 57 yards in 10 plays and Car’s second touchdown of the evening gave them their first lead.

Now trailing 24-28, Tulane must have felt a sense of urgency because Pratt wasted no time reclaiming the advantage. He connected with receiver Jha’Quan Jackson for an 8-yard score on the ensuing possession that put the Greenies back up by three. It was an edge that, as it turned out, the Wave would only hold for 17 seconds. Stevenson bolted 97 yards on the kickoff for a house call. This game had apparently become a bonafide back-and-forth affair.

Late in the third and early in the fourth Houston started to pull away thanks to a Kyle Porter touchdown push and a Stevenson scoring reception. Before Tulane could really even blink their eyes, they were down by 18, the same deficit they would end up losing by. Houston poured it on and didn’t look back.

The Good: Houston showed a tremendous ability to shake off some heavy-set rust early. It was painfully obvious out of the gates that this team hadn’t played a game yet this fall. In the face of a 17-point deficit, though, Dana Holgorson’s crew was more than up to the task. Resilience and big plays on both sides of the ball propelled the Cougars to a much-needed win.

NCAA Football: Tulane at Houston
Marquez Stevenson (#5) finished with five catches for 118 yards and a touchdown.
Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

If Tulane can channel the defense we saw in the first quarter then the rest of the AAC should be scared. Three turnovers in the opening frame, two of which directly resulted in touchdowns, and five overall is the kind of performance that will win you a lot of games. They’ll just need some help from the offense.

The Bad: It would be very easy to point at Cougars turnovers here and we still will. But specifically Houston needs to be concerned with the shakiness in the return game. Marcus Jones, for as dynamite as he can be, fumbled two punts on Thursday night and the Cougs were fortunate that only one actually resulted in a turnover. He did do enough to redeem himself but this is not a game that Houston will want to play week in and week out.

Tulane’s offensive line struggled mightily in this game. Pratt was sacked six times. Yes, the injury to starter Joey Claybrook didn’t help anything but they will need to shore things up in the trenches moving forward. The normally dynamic ground game only rushed for 70 yards. There’s definitely work to be done.

The Ugly: Penalties plagued the Cougars for much of the evening. Houston was flagged 10 times for 84 yards and directly had some scores taken away due to infractions. This still works in an 18-point win but it won’t in a tighter game.

The Green Wave sure seems like they’re going to have trouble holding leads this season. A few weeks ago they surrendered 27 unanswered points to Navy after leading 24-0 and then they let the Cougars outscore them 28-7 in the second half in this one. Just like that the Greenies are 0-2 in conference play thanks to this inability to maintain edges in games.

Up Next: Houston (1-0) will stay home and look to stay undefeated as they host BYU next Friday evening.

Tulane (2-2) will be looking to bounce back against SMU next Friday night in Yulman Stadium.