2016 Post Game Analysis: Tulane
By: Jimmy Schofield
Photo courtesy uhcougars.com
Behind another great defensive performance and an offense that did just enough, your Houston Cougars defeated the Tulane Green Wave 30-18 on its 71st Homecoming game Saturday afternoon at TDECU Stadium. With the win, the Coogs pushed their record to 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the American Athletic Conference where they stand at second place in the West, half a game behind Navy.
Let’s take a look at how they performed on offense, defense and special teams.
Offensively this may have been one of the weaker performances of the season, especially in a win as they totaled just 287 yards (221 passing and only 66 rushing), with eight “three-and-outs” in 16 possessions. The offense came out passing against a Tulane defense that allowed only 360.7 total yards of offense (ranking them 27th nationally) entering game action on Saturday. While allowing 162.8 yards rushing (59th) they surrendered only 197.8 yards through the air (27th) behind an aggressive front seven and ferocious man-to-man coverage. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. overthrew some passes early on against that man coverage, finishing the day completing 18-of-30 passes for only 189 yards with two touchdowns to ZERO interceptions.
Those stats were completed in three quarters of play as he injured a shoulder diving for what he thought was a live ball after he intentionally spiked it right before halftime. His backup, Kyle Postma, completed three of his six passes for 32 yards with an interception on a deep post to end the first half. He also rushed for 13 yards on five carries but had one run in which he lost 10 yards because of Tulane’s defense, which was in the Cougars backfield all day long as they had 13 tackles-for-loss. Ward rushed minus-three yards on the game (on five carries) due to 24 yards lost as both QB’s were sacked four times, though he did cross the goal line once on a five yard zone read keeper to give the Coogs a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter. Ward finished the game, playing in the fourth quarter after Postma injured his left arm as he landed on it to brace himself as he was being tackled. The status for both is obviously undetermined as of this writing, though Postma’s injury looked far worse than Ward’s.
As for an already anemic run game that had only averaged 3.86 yards-per-carry to rank them 100th nationally entering play Saturday, it’s to the point now in the season where offensive coordinator Major Applewhite doesn’t even attempt to use the inside zone run game as he knows it’ll be ineffective behind his offensive line of Josh Jones, Mason Denley, Will Noble, Marcus Oliver and Braylon Jones. Reserve guard Alex Fontana added his usual holding penalties as two of them wiped out two Ward ten plus yard runs that would have resulted in first downs.
Running back Duke Catalon had his moments, but was held in check for the most part, rushing for 50 yards on 20 carries. Applewhite tries to get him in the flow early on the perimeter game via swing passes, but he wasn’t able to shake Tulane’s fast, free flowing defense there either as he accumulated only eight yards on four receptions. Dillon Birden had 11 yards on three carries but seems to be more of a between the tackles rusher, to me anyway, so I’m not sure why he hasn’t been used more lately as the O-line has proven they can’t get a good push up front. They finished the game rushing for those 66 yards on 35 attempts, good for a 1.9 yards-per-carry average.
When Ward was able to connect, he hit his usual suspects in slot receiver Linell Bonner and outside receivers Chance Allen and Steven Dunbar. Bonner led the way once again with 9 receptions for 97 yards, adeptly setting up his defenders with precise route running a number of times. Allen caught three balls for 64 yards, including a 34 yarder on a third-and-9 midway through the second quarter. A few plays later he caught a six yard slant that was almost intercepted for a touchdown to give the Coogs a comfortable 28-10 lead. Dunbar meanwhile caught two passes for 33 yards, including a 17 yard fade for a touchdown, a possession earlier. Keith Corbin caught the first passes of his career as the true freshman reeled in two balls for 17 yards. Tight end Tyler McCloskey added a two yard reception as well.
Defensively, Todd Orlando’s “Third Ward Defense” allowed 341 total yards, but only 100 rushing to a Tulane spread option attack that was averaging 251.6 yards-per-game on the ground, ranking them 15th nationally entering play on Saturday. After sitting out five games due to a broken orbital bone, outside linebacker Tyus Bowser played perhaps the game of his career as he led the team with 11 total tackles and 6 solo, 3.5 of which were for loss while adding 3 sacks. Bowser was able to show off his pass rush skills via a lightning quick first step or a fierce bull rush as he was able to shed offensive linemen and running backs with violent ease. His penetration resulted in the Cougars second safety of the season as well as he forced a facemask penalty on Tulane’s left tackle while they were in the end zone to complete the scoring.
No matter which side Bowser lined up on, he was able to set the edge to push the run to the interior, where down linemen Ed Oliver, Nick Thurman, Cameron Malveaux and Jerard Carter were able to thwart any semblance of an inside run game for the Green Wave. Though Oliver had only three tackles on the game, he added to his nation leading fifth pass breakup for a defensive lineman with a pass batted down early in the game. Both Malveaux and Thurman added 1.5 TFL with Thurman adding a pass breakup of his own on a batted ball as Tulane’s QB tried getting rid of the ball quickly to slow down a relentless front seven that was in the Green Wave’s backfield all day as they had TEN tackles-for-loss to go along with those three sacks by Bowser.
Inside linebackers Steven Taylor and Mathew Adams combined for 10 tackles (Adams 6) with Emeke Egbule and D’Juan Hines combining for just two when they lined up at the other outside linebacker spot. With Orlando playing in the nickel most of the game, his 3-3-5 scheme allowed his defense to disguise were blitzers would come from. It also allowed cornerback Jeremy Winchester to play a lot on the outside and make plays, to which he did as he had 8 total tackles (6 solo), 2 pass breakups (one which should have gone for a pick-6) and a fumble recovery on special teams for a touchdown that opened up scoring on the day. Winchester was burned though for a 28 yard touchdown in which he was playing man coverage but thought he had safety help from Khalil Williams that never came because the first year starter took a bad angle on the deep post. This continues to be a problem for Orlando’s secondary as the defense continues to play un-sound football whether it be in pursuit angles or just plain lazy tackling (the other safety, Garrett Davis, tried to tackle a Tulane running back by just using his shoulder but instead just bumped him as he ran for another ten yards before being brought down). The two safeties combined for 11 tackles (6 by Williams including one for loss).
Cornerback Howard Wilson added four tackles (three solo and a pass breakup), but was beat on a stop-and-go route in which his aggression was used against him, for a 21 yard touchdown, one of two Tulane passing TD’s on the day. Nickel back Brandon Wilson added six tackles as well. The secondary was beat downfield a few times or just missed tackles on short passes as Tulane passed for 241 yards (they entered the game averaging just over 103 yards-per-game) on 21-of-42 completions with two touchdowns.
Coordinator Jason Washington’s unit played a decent game on special teams, recovering four of five onsides kick attempts, three of which came early in the game as the Tulane coaching staff tried to catch the Cougars napping early. Punter Dane Roy had his biggest work load of the season, punting 11 times, averaging 44.2 yards on those punts. His rugby style punts, which bounce after as they have a low trajectory, didn’t lead to many returns as he was able to pin Tulane’s offense inside their own 20-yard line SIX times. The two times Tulane was able to return them ended either great or bad, with the first a fumble that led to Houston’s first score (via the recovery in the end zone by Winchester) and the other good as it was returned for 22 yards.
Kicker Ty Cummings had two touchbacks on five kickoffs with Tulane averaging 25 yards on their three returns. Cummings did not attempt a field goal. In the return games for the Cougars, true freshman Colin Wilder returned two punts for six yards and no kickoffs were returned with Tulane attempting as many squib and onsides kicks as they did on the game.
Overall, the Cougars did what they had to in order to give themselves a chance at winning the West, though it looks doubtful as Navy has to lose their final two games, but more importantly, gave themselves a little more momentum as the team needs to gear up for an ESPN nationally televised showdown with what’s sure to be a second or possibly third ranked Louisville Cardinals ball club Thursday night at TDECU Stadium. These are the kinds of games that head coach Tom Herman is usually able to pump his team up to play, IE a game as a major underdog against a top-10 ranked opponent. Stay logged into Coogfans.com as I bring you my game preview early in the week.