Well that’s one way to start the year. Houston started their 2020 season in exciting fashion, coming away with a 49-31 win over Tulane. Once the Cougars settled down and limited the turnovers, the Green Wave couldn’t do anything to stop them or move the ball. It’s already night and day between this Houston team and last year’s version, so a lot of credit is due to the coaching staff. So what did we learn? There’s a lot to unpack from last night, but here’s the big ones.
The offensive line is no longer a liability
Yes there were still times where Clayton Tune was running for his life (mostly early in the game), but this was a unit that dominated at times. If anyone wanted to start the 2020 season to get last year’s image out of their heads, it’s the offensive line. They got to work right away, and helped lead the offense to 476 yards. Patrick Paul and Dennis Bardwell did well to limit Tulane defensive ends Patrick Johnson and Cam Sample, and the interior line helped break Mulbah Car and Kyle Porter free multiple times throughout the game. This group was the one everyone was concerned about, and they’ve already eased most of those concerns in just one game. Still a long season, but they’re off to a good start.
Houston can play defense!
Again, it’s early, but the defense was extremely impressive last night. Payton Turner’s development last year led me to believe that he’d be great in 2020, and he proved me right last night. Turner finished the game with seven tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks. He only recorded one quarterback hurry, and would have been credited with many more if Michael Pratt hadn’t got rid of the ball so early. The Cougars were everywhere on Saturday defensively, and that disrupted Tulane’s flow offensively. They were so good, in fact, that they ended a streak for the Green Wave.
Houston held Tulane to 70 rushing yards, snapping the Green Wave's streak of 56 consecutive games with at least 100. "They had nowhere to run,” linebacker Grant Stuard said. “They had no choice but try to run through us, and that’s not going to happen with this defense.”— Joseph Duarte (@Joseph_Duarte) October 9, 2020
Grant Stuard led the team in tackles (shocker), and looked fairly comfortable in his new role at Will linebacker. The Houston front seven feasted on a Tulane offensive line that struggled mightily. Even though the Green Wave scored 31 points, only 10 can really be placed on the defense because of the turnovers by the offense. It’s also a good thing Houston got this game in to get rid of some of the rust, because their next game against BYU will be much tougher.
Marcus Jones will be a roller coaster
I still have to go back and rewatch the film, but for now this isn’t about Jones as a corner. It’s about him as a punt returner. Jones returned seven punts Thursday for a 108 yards (15.4 yards per return), which showed why people were so excited about him coming to Houston. But there’s also a catch. Jones had two fumbles returning punts in the game. One was wiped out because a Tulane player stepped out of bounds before recovering the fumble, but the other one counted. Even a couple of the balls he fielded were with Tulane defenders in his face or close to it. I’m sure Holgorsen and the staff will work on that with him, but it’s a roller coaster that we must ride for now. We already saw what the highs can look like, but we also saw the lows. Still, Jones has already shown that he has speed to burn, and it’s only a matter of time before he houses one.
Bonus: We’re having fun
This is the most fun I’ve had watching a Houston football game in years. The Major Applewhite years kind of sucked the life out of the program in terms of excitement, but it seems like the fun has returned. Once Houston got settled down, they gashed Tulane and stifled the Green Wave offense at the same time. It’s still early to get a read on this team, but I already love what I’m watching. It’s nice to feel that way again.