This week 4-1 Tulsa travels to Houston to take on the 13th ranked, (5-1) Cougars. This game has huge implications for the western division of the AAC, as it looks like it is going to turn into a 2-horse race between Houston and Memphis, with Tulsa having an opportunity to play their way into it.
This will be the second straight nationally televised game for Tulsa, as ESPN2 will carry it, 6 o’clock kickoff. Let’s get into this week’s preview.
Last year: Houston was ignited by first year coach Tom Herman. The Cougars won the AAC conference title, and topped off an amazing season with a Peach Bowl victory over Florida State. Houston finished with a 13-1 record, with their only blemish being a weird 20-17 loss to the 6-7 Connecticut Huskies. The Golden Hurricane gave Houston a good challenge last season, but ended up falling 38-24. It was Tulsa’s 3rd lowest point total of the season, but of course that was the game where TU lost Keevan Lucas.
The stats: NCAA rank in parentheses.
Scoring offense: 43.5 ppg (10th)
Rushing offense: 188.67 ypg (52nd)
Passing offense: 313.7 ypg (19th)
Scoring defense: 17.0 ppg (14th)
Rushing defense: 86.00 ypg (4th)
Passing defense: 186.0 ypg (24th)
Best players: Obviously their best player is QB Greg Ward. Last year, he rushed for a career high 183 yards vs Tulsa. Linell Bonner (#15) is their leading receiver through 6 games, as he has 556 yards on 42 recpetions. His 42 receptions are good for 7th in the NCAA. Steven Dunbar (#88) is no joke either, as he is averaging more yards per catch, and has gone over 100 yards twice this season. Freshman DE Ed Oliver (#10) is one to watch defensively.
Uniform Advantage: Houston does pretty well considering their only colors are red and white. I’m going to give the advantage to Tulsa though.
Uniform Prediction: I think we’ll see Tulsa go Gold-White-Blue.
Keys to the game: The biggest factor in Navy’s upset victory last week was turnovers. The midshipmen forced 3 Houston turnovers, and didn’t give it back once. Tulsa needs to enter with the same goal in mind. Last year Tulsa lost the turnover battle 2-1, this year it will have to be 2-0 or 3-0 for Tulsa to get a victory. I think that TU’s game plan for Greg Ward should be very similar to what they did to JT Barrett in the first half. Load the box, no high safety, try to get pressure, and keep Ward in the pocket. While this might result in long touchdowns, it also might result in hurried, inaccurate throws. Tulsa is usually very poor against the read-option and dual-threat QBs (highlighted by Chason Virgial, Baker Mayfield, and Greg Ward’s career days against us). But that gameplan worked very well vs JT Barrett, so maybe it will work this weekend too. Offensively, let’s see if we can sustain a drive and slow down the game. That’s usually not our style, but I would not be against seeing 4-5 minute drives with 12 plays if it results in a Tulsa touchdown. Houston has a great run defense so that may be tough, but the run game is our strength right now, let’s lean on it. Playing fast plays right into Houston’s hands. Think about it, the only two teams to beat Houston the past two years (UConn & Navy) dominated the ball. It’s hard for me to imagine this as anything but a high-scoring game; however, I think Tulsa’s best shot is in a 35-31 game, not a 52-48 game.
Preview: This will be a good test for Tom Herman. Other schools are calling, Houston just lost out on its chance for the playoff, can he get his team focused on Tulsa? I think yes; before the loss to Navy, Tulsa was viewed as the end of a tough stretch in Houston’s schedule. Now, Tulsa is the first game in Houston’s quest for a second straight conference championship. A lot is on the line for Tulsa in this game too. Last year Montgomery was a success, but he was not competitive against the best AAC teams, this week will be his first test in 2016 to see if his team belongs on that 1st tier of the AAC. This game also has huge division implications, if Tulsa were to win, they’d be in the drivers seat for the Western division, and they’d probably be ranked in the top-25. I’m excited.
Prediction: Here is the bad news, I don’t think Tulsa has much of a chance. Here is the good news, my last 2 predictions have been way off. Thinking with my head, I think that Tulsa has no chance of containing Greg Ward, Houston will hold Tulsa to under their season average in rushing yards, and Dane and Keevan will continue to be just a little off. However, my heart tells me that Tulsa’s defense is going to show up, Greg Ward is going to turn it over 3 times, Keevan is going to have the game of his life, and Dane will lead us to victory. As an engineering major, I have to go with my head. Houston 48-24