- Time and date: Saturday, November 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPNU
- Location: TDECU Stadium — Houston, TX
- Spread: Houston (-12)
- ESPN FPI: Houston has 83.3% chance to win
- All-time series: Houston leads, 26-19
- Last meeting: Houston 45, Tulsa 10 — October 1, 2021
- Current streak: Houston, 3 (2018-21)
Setting the scene
For the final time, AAC signage and branding will be scattered around the field at TDECU Stadium. The Houston Cougars (7-4, 5-2 AAC) prepare for their final home game before transitioning to the Big 12 on July 1. Head coach Dana Holgorsen and the Cougars are still technically alive for a return trip to the AAC Championship Game, although they’ll require assistance from Tulane to beat Cincinnati and South Florida to beat UCF to receive a higher computerized ranking than the Bearcats and Knights for the tiebreaker.
Standing in the Cougars’ way on senior night is the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (4-7, 2-5 AAC) which will play their final game of 2022 due to missing out on bowl eligibility. Tulsa proved its offensive mettle last week in a Friday night fireworks show with South Florida, so the Golden Hurricane aim to sustain that success in a road trip to Houston to conclude the season.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane outlook
It’s officially the season finale for Philip Montgomery and his Tulsa squad, which will be deprived of bowl eligibility for the first time since 2019. Thus, 2022 will be the final college football game for many seniors worthy of recognition on the Golden Hurricane roster.
One of those seniors is running back Deneric Prince, who burst through the South Florida defense en route to 220 rushing yards and two touchdowns in his final game at Chapman Stadium. The downhill runner and frequent tackle-breaker will look for one more extraordinary performance before elevating his football career to the professional level.
Wide receiver Keylon Stokes is another notable senior suiting up for the final time in Tulsa colors. Stokes is currently fourth in the FBS with 1,177 receiving yards on the season, and he’s only 31 yards away from the national leader. He enters Houston with a cloud of momentum after generating 145 yards and a touchdown in the 48-42 win over South Florida — signifying his seventh 100-yard game of his best season to date.
The majority of Tulsa’s starting defense is also of the senior variety, and many of them were key contributors in the program’s 2020 AAC Championship Game run. Middle linebacker Justin Wright and nickelback Bryson Powers are tied for the team-lead with 94 tackles, and the two redshirt seniors combine for 13 tackles for loss and six pass deflections in standout seasons. Strong safety Kendarin Ray is another departing member of the program, and he’ll be called upon to lay down the hammer out of the secondary. Ray’s 2022 résumé includes 84 tackles and three forced fumbles for a Tulsa team looking to commandingly win the turnover battle for the second consecutive week.
But not all of the Golden Hurricane contributions are from the veterans. Tulsa starts a redshirt freshman quarterback in Braylon Braxton, who is coming off the most spectacular showing of the season. Braxton more than doubled his career-high in passing yards by posting 302 against the South Florida defense and he added two rushing touchdowns to his efficient performance through the air. He’ll look to inflict damage on a Houston secondary which ranks in the bottom 10 in passing yards allowed per game in 2022.
Tulsa looks to capitalize on any opportunities it may get inside the Houston 20-yard line, as its opponent fields the second worst red zone defense in the country. Outside of Prince and Stokes, Tulsa aims to move its offense downfield through another pair of seniors in running back Steven Anderson and wide receiver JuanCarlos Santana. Anderson has 326 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the season while Santana is second among Tulsa receivers with 690 yards and five touchdowns. Offense remains the strength of this Golden Hurricane team, as they rank 32nd in passing yards per game and 52nd in total yards on a countrywide basis.
Defensive play has been more shaky for Tulsa, as suggested by last week’s 48-42 score against South Florida. The Golden Hurricane have yielded 40 points on four occasions this season, and although the pass defense ranks 22nd in the FBS, there are certainly concerns about the unit’s ability to counter the run. Only four teams allow more rushing production than Tulsa’s per game allotment of 216 yards, and although Houston is typically a pass-first team, the Cougars have demonstrated the ability to pick up significant chunks with the running backs.
Houston Cougars outlook
Houston could not have asked for a more perfect Saturday last time out. The Cougars entered Greenville, NC as road underdogs to a surging East Carolina team and obliterated them in every manner possible in a 42-3 result. Houston posted 435 passing yards in a stellar offensive showing, but that’s been typical of the offense since mid-October. The most impressive aspect of that game involved the defense preventing East Carolina from reaching the end zone and and forcing a sub-50 percent completion rate — and they didn’t even rely on a single takeaway.
The Cougars have won five of six games and recent offensive dominance is to thank. Quarterback Clayton Tune is a four-year starter for the program, but he’s saved his best football for the final stretch of his accomplished Houston career. Tune leads the country in passing touchdowns and has tossed at least three in six consecutive outings, totaling 26 over that span. In that same six-game stretch, he averages 376.3 passing yards per game, and he continues to light up defenses through the air.
Tune has plenty of weapons at his disposal, and not too many receivers concern defenses more than potential All-American Tank Dell. The slot receiver has been on a rampage lately with two 170+ yard outings in his last three contests. Tune also rides an eight-game streak of hauling in at least one touchdown reception. With numbers like those, it’s easy to see why he ranks second in the FBS in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
The Cougars returned Ta’Zhawn Henry and Brandon Campbell to the backfield in the past two weeks after both running backs missed substantial time due to injuries. Even with the restored depth at the position, Houston still exhibits a passing-centric offense. Veteran weapons like Sam Brown and tight end Christian Trahan have become increased contributors during the team’s recent offensive explosion, but it’s been true freshman Matthew Golden turning heads lately. With two 100-yard outings and a 44-yard game-winning touchdown in his last three appearances, Golden looks bound to be a star in the making.
Defense was the strength of the 2021 AAC runner-up Cougars, but that hasn’t been the case in 2022 — until last week. Houston allowed 77 points and nine passing touchdowns to SMU and yielded 486 passing yards to a Temple team averaging under 20 points per game to usher in the month of November. Things looked dreary, but a whole different Cougar defense was on display against a potent East Carolina offense. By means of a relentless pass defense, Houston limited East Carolina to 3-of-14 on third downs and 0-of-4 on fourth downs. Cornerbacks Jalen Emery and Jayce Rogers rose to the occasion and turned the Cougars’ Achilles heel into a strength.
The most important aspect of Houston’s defense is the pass rush. The Cougars shined in this aspect toward the beginning of the season, but lately, getting to the quarterback has been more of a challenge. D’Anthony Jones is on a roll with a sack in three consecutive games, but other Cougar linemen will be counted upon to apply pressure on a Tulsa offensive line which surrenders the fifth-most sacks in the FBS.
There will be points. Houston’s offense is explosive and the Cougars ride a four-game streaking of eclipsing the 40-point threshold. Back at TDECU Stadium for the final time in 2022, expect a productive day from Clayton Tune, Tank Dell, and Houston’s 10th ranked passing offense.
Tulsa can light up the scoreboard, but the Golden Hurricane passing offense has been more limited with Braylon Braxton than with Davis Brin. Still, there are plenty of talented skill position players which Houston’s defense will be tasked with slowing down. The Cougar defense needs to prove last week’s assertive domination of ECU was no fluke, and even if they show half the level of execution from that game, they’ll have enough offense to fly past Tulsa.
Prediction: Houston 45, Tulsa 23