GAME NOTES: The Tulsa Golden Hurricane hope to punch their ticket to the Conference USA Championship on Saturday when they storm Robertson Stadium to take on the Houston Cougars.
Tulsa holds a two-game lead in the West Division standings over Houston and SMU with three games left to play. The Golden Hurricane will become this season's West Division representative with a win and an SMU loss. Tulsa has its seven- game winning streak snapped last week as it suffered a 19-15 setback in its non-conference finale at Arkansas.
Houston's season continued its up and down trend last week as it was defeated 48-28 by East Carolina in Greenville. Coach Tony Levine watched his team fall into a 28-0 hole before it managed to score any points versus the Pirates. The loss was the second in three games for the Cougars, who began the season 0-3 before stringing together three straight wins.
The Cougars hold a 20-17 edge in their all-time series with Tulsa. Houston has picked up wins in five of the previous seven meetings to build its advantage in the series.
Tulsa has one of the most prolific scoring offenses in the country, ranking 24th with 36.8 ppg.
The Golden Hurricane have found success behind a lethal rushing attack (232.9 ypg, 5.1 ypc). Ja'Terian Douglas (721 yards, six TDs) and Trey Watts (588 yards, three TDs) have shown big-play ability. Alex Singleton (116 carries, 493 yards) may not have as high a yards per carry average as Douglas or Watts, but his 16 rushing touchdowns give him the ninth most points in the nation.
With a run-first offense, Cody Green is purely a game manager. Although his 10 touchdowns-to-six-interceptions ratio is not great considering his role, he is 10-2 in his career as a starter, which includes his 4-0 record at Nebraska.
Five players have at least 225 receiving yards, led by Keyarris Garrett (40 receptions, 537 yards, five TDs).
The Tulsa defensive unit is ranked second in the C-USA in both scoring defense (24.9 ppg) and total defense (385.4 ypg). The unit has made big plays in the backfield however with 70 tackles for loss, 36 sacks and 12 fumble recoveries.
DeAundre Brown has been one of the best linebackers in the country, filling up the stat sheet with 93 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and an interception. Senior DL Jared St. John is right behind Brown with seven sacks.
The Cougars led the entire FBS in total offense and scoring offense last season, but it appeared like they would experience a rebuilding season after their season opening 30-13 loss to Texas State. However, the Cougars are ranked sixth in the FBS in passing offense (340.2) and 13th in total offense (496.9) in their first year of the post-Case Keenum era. The high-scoring numbers from last season have diminished due to Houston's 27 giveaways.
David Piland has been streaky under center for Houston this season, throwing for 2,779 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Piland struggled with his accuracy (22-of-51), but managed to throw for 341 yards and four TDs in last week's loss at ECU.
Houston's receiving corps features a pair of reliable targets in Dewayne Peace and Daniel Spencer. Peace leads the team with 42 receptions for 458 yards and two scores. Spencer has tallied 564 yards and three TDs on 40 receptions. Five other Cougars have more than 100 yards and a touchdown grab as well. Last week, Mark Roberts made a team-high five receptions for 62 yards with a score and Isaiah Sweeney reeled in three passes for 93 yards a touchdown.
The rushing attack is the key to Houston's success. The Cougars improved to 6-0 all-time when running back Charles Sims records 100+ rushing yards two weeks ago. However, Sims has been held under 100 yards in two of the team's past three outings. He only rushed the ball five times for 33 yards against the Pirates.
Houston is one of the weakest defensive teams in the C-USA with allowances of 470.8 yards and 36.7 points per contest. Over its past two games, the team has surrendered 83 points and 1,046 total yards of offense.
Trevon Stewart leads the team and is tied for second in the conference with 76 total stops. D.J. Hayden is leading the league with four interceptions, two of which he has returned for six points.
The Golden Hurricane have all the pressure on them heading into this one. Tulsa should be able to get past the Cougars' weak defense with its three- headed rushing attack. Houston needs to limit its turnovers to have any hope of the upset.