The 2019 season has not started as planned for the Houston Cougars football team.
After finishing last season ranked in the Top 25, a step-back was anticipated given the number of key losses on both sides of the ball. But the Cougars are staring a 1-2 record square in the face with a pair of close losses to ranked opponents. Now, Houston must avoid a drop to 1-3 in their American Athletic Conference opener at Tulane.
The Green Wave have actually looked more impressive this season and lost a narrow 24-6 game at Auburn in which both defenses shined. Both of Tulane’s victories, however, are against lesser opposition. How will the Green Wave fare against a Houston team in a pretty equal matchup?
Houston Cougars vs Tulane Green Wave
Thursday, September 19, 2019, 8 p.m.
Yulman Stadium, New Orleans, La.
*All odds and betting info courtesy of OddsShark and originally posted by BetOnline
Spread: Tulane (-5.5 at -107)
Over/Under: 55.5 (Over at -120)
Through three games this season, the Cougars and dual-threat quarterback D’Eriq King are averaging just 385 yards of total offense per game and have scored 11 times. Most of that comes on the ground, however, making Houston a predictable team to defend. The Cougars rank in the bottom-10 of FBS in passing yards this season averaging 146.3 a game.
Despite all that, the Cougars have still managed to score 30.7 points per game. King is the main factor, as he ranks eighth among FBS quarterbacks in yards per carry at 5.16 and is tied for the joint lead in QB rushing touchdowns with five. He also holds an NCAA record with 14-straight games recording a passing and rushing touchdown.
Their problem is defense, particularly on first downs. Houston is 114th out of 129 schools in first down defense. Cougar opponents have earned 71 first downs on first down this season, only three coming by way of penalty. Houston allows 32.3 points per game, not horrible considering both losses came to high-powered offenses like Oklahoma and Washington State.
The Green Wave doesn’t even need their offense on the field to set up good field position. Tulane ranks fifth in kickoff return yards averaging 34.7 per return this season. Tack on an additional 17.6 yards per punt return and an FBS ninth-best seven turnovers gained this season.
With the offense out there, Tulane is also a run-heavy team and averages 256 rushing yard per game. In turn, their rushing defense is stout and has allowed opponents just 95 yards a game. The Green Wave has several weapons in the backfield, primarily Amare Jones, Corey Dauphine, Darius Bradwell, and quarterback Justin McMillan.
Like Houston, the Green Wave also average under 200 passing yards per game. Another problem area is Tulane’s discipline as the Wave has averaged nine penalties a game this season, near the bottom of FBS.
Houston has been trending over in recent weeks while Tulane has been hitting the under. Though 55.5 is a low total, Houston has combined for less than that in its last two games.
Facing a defense like Tulane’s in Week 4 might result in more of clock-battle than a shootout as well. The teams don’t do a lot of damage in the second half either and have combined to average less than 20 points in the final 30 minutes.
Pick: Take the under, though it will hit pretty close. As for the spread, go with Houston. If they lose it won’t be by more than five points and there’s more of a chance the Cougars steal one in the Bayou.