The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 24, 3:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Robertson Stadium (32,000) -- Houston, Texas Television: FSN. Home Record: Tulane 2-5, Houston 2-3. Away Record: Tulane 0-4, Houston 1-4. Neutral Record: Tulane 0-0, Houston 1-0. Conference Record: Tulane 2-5, Houston 3-4. Series Record: Houston leads, 13-4.
GAME NOTES: The Houston Cougars conclude their tenure as members of Conference USA with a regular-season finale against the Tulane Green Wave at Robertson Stadium.
This contest will also be the final game held at Robertson Stadium, which opened its doors to the first-ever Cougars football team in 1946. Houston is bound for the Big East Conference for the 2013 season after joining the Conference USA as a founding member in 1996.
Tulane and Houston began a rivalry in 1968 and will play for the 18th time on Saturday. The Cougars hold a 13-4 edge in the all-time series which includes a 7-2 record at Robertson Stadium. Both teams will be ending their season's under first-year head coaches on Saturday after failing to become bowl eligible.
In its first season under Curtis Johnson, Tulane has produced just two wins in 11 games. Its 2-5 mark in conference action has the team tied with Texas-El Paso at the bottom of the West Division standings. The Green Wave finished the 2011 season with 10 consecutive losses and began this year with five more to build an FBS leading losing streak. They finally ended the skid with a one- point upset of SMU at home, but the Green Wave have been defeated in four of five games since downing the Mustangs. Last week, East Carolina defeated Tulane, 28-23, to hand the team its third straight setback.
Houston is 4-7 entering the last chapter of Tony Levine's inaugural season as the program's head coach. The Cougars started the post-Case Keenum era out with a three-game losing streak before reeling off three-straight wins to get back to .500. Houston then lost four of its next five, including last week's 44-41 setback to Marshall which ended the team's hopes of becoming bowl eligible. Houston's offense had been fairly productive this season, but the Thundering Herd had no problem winning the shootout as they amassed 665 yards of total offense and a program record 37 first downs on the Cougars' weak defensive unit.
Tulane has been inconsistent on the offensive side of the ball in a high- scoring league in 2012. It has been plagued all season long by its inability to run the ball effectively. It entered last week ranked 119th in the nation in rushing yards with only 42.3 ypg. The struggle continued versus ECU as it ran just 22 times in the outing and finished with an average of 0.4 yards per attempt.
Despite getting zero help from team's running backs, senior QB Ryan Griffin did a decent job under center versus the Pirates, completing 36-of-57 attempts for 293 yards and two touchdowns. Griffin was the hero in the Green Wave's losing streak snapping victory over SMU as he returned from an injury to pass for 302 yards and three TDs, which included a clutch game-winning drive in the final minutes. Over the span of his last six games since returning, Griffin has averaged 351.8 passing yards per game with 17 touchdowns to six interceptions.
Ryan Grant extended his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 19 by reeling in 10 receptions for 94 yards last week. The junior wideout increased his season total of receiving yards to a C-USA leading best 1,046 in the process. He has also reeled in six touchdown grabs this season.
On the season, the Green Wave's opponents are averaging 472.7 yards and 38.3 points per game. Tulane finally held an opponent under the 30-point mark last week after surrendering 131 points over the span of its previous three games.
Freshman defensive back Darion Monroe is the team's leading tackler with 84 stops. Senior Austen Jacks is the best big play producer with 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Freshman Lorenzo Doss will look to add to his team-best total of four interceptions.
The Cougars were an unstoppable offensive force last season with Keenum's record setting performance under center, but it appeared they would experience a rebuilding season after their season opening 30-13 loss to Texas State. However, the Cougars are ranked 11th in the FBS in passing offense (324.6) and 26th in total offense (469.5) in the first year without their All-American passer. The high-scoring numbers from last season have been reduced by Houston's 32 giveaways.
Sophomore David Piland was up and down as the starting QB for most of the season for Houston. He will likely guide the offense through the Big East next season, but Crawford Jones will get the nod on Saturday. Jones, a fifth-year senior, finally made the first start of his career versus the Thundering Herd last week. The Cougars nearly left Huntington with a win as he went 31-of-44 for 316 yards and five touchdowns without an interception.
Houston's receiving corps showed its depth versus Marshall as eight different Cougars had multiple receptions. Deontay Greenberry made a team-best six catches for 60 yards and a score while Dewayne Peace and Xavier Maxwell caught two touchdown passes each. The depth at wideout was nothing new as eight different Houston players have at least two touchdown catches on the season in the spread attack.
The Cougars found success in the rushing game earlier in the season with tailback Charles Sims pacing the team on the ground. The Cougars improved to 6-0 all-time when running back Charles Sims records 100+ rushing yards three weeks ago versus Texas-El Paso. However, Sims has been limited by injuries since that contest. Freshman Kenneth Farrow took over the ball carrying duties last week to produce 78 yards on 14 attempts.
The Cougars scoring defense (37.7 ppg) and total defense (491.6 ypg) are both ranked in the bottom 10 among FBS programs.
Due to defense's inability to get opponents off the field, Phillip Steward (120), Trevon Stewart (118), Derrick Mathews (115), and Everett Daniels (103) all rank in the top 10 in the C-USA in total tackles. The Cougars lost their top cornerback to a season ending injury during the week prior to the game at Marshall. The Cougars managed to pick off the Thundering Herd's Rakeem Cato twice in the contest.
Although the Cougars have the homefield advantage on their side, Griffin and the Green Wave will give them a run in what will be a very high-scoring affair. Houston is not on a higher level than the visitors after having a few of its top players bitten by the injury bug, giving the Green Wave the edge in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tulane 41, Houston 38
11/21 10:51:15 ET