The Cougars (0-0) had five other games canceled or rescheduled for COVID-19-related reasons before this week. For now, anyway, Houston finally looks to be starting its season against the Green Wave. Houston is breaking in 33 junior college, FCS, and FBS transfers as it seeks to bounce back from a dismal 4-8 mark in Dana Holgorsen's first season at the helm.
Tulane (2-1, 0-1 AAC) will present a challenge to the Cougars. The Green Wave already have earned a pair of road wins over South Alabama and Southern Miss. They have been consistent on both sides of the ball to this point. Tulane is third in the American Athletic Conference in total defense (368.3 ypg) and fourth in total offense (441.0 ypg). The Green Wave are outscoring opponents 39-25.
Houston leads the series between the two teams 17-7. Tulane has won two straight road contests in the series, most recently beating the Cougars 38-31 last season.
Tulane at Houston
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Houston – 6.5
When Tulane Has the Ball
The Green Wave turned into a tsunami on offense against Southern Miss two weeks ago. After falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter, Tulane seized control and ran away for a 66-24 victory. An explosive running game served as the catalyst for success.
Tulane rolled up 427 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground against the Golden Eagles. The Green Wave collectively averaged 7.9 yards per carry. Cameron Carroll and Stephon Huderson each had 100-yard games, combining for 283 total yards and four scores on 26 carries. It is no one-game fluke either. Tulane leads the American in rushing offense. Through three games, the Green Wave have racked up 882 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Even with leading rusher Tyjae Spears gone for the season with a torn ACL, Tulane is in good shape in the backfield.
The same is true at quarterback. Michael Pratt will make his first start against Houston. Pratt, a freshman, wrestled the starting job away from senior Keon Howard after what he did against Southern Miss. Howard was benched late in the first quarter. Pratt got the offense rolling almost immediately. He threw for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 9-of-19 passing while complementing the unstoppable running attack.
When Houston Has the Ball
The Cougars lost to Tulane on a last-second touchdown last season. How much, if anything, has changed for Houston one season later?
D'Eriq King is gone for one. The loss to the Green Wave ended up being the final game for King as Houston's starting quarterback. He chose to transfer to Miami, where he is now the Hurricanes' starting quarterback. His replacement, Clayton Tune, threw for 1,533 yards and 11 touchdowns in seven games. Tune also completed only 59 percent of his passes and threw nine interceptions.
Houston will look to emphasize the passing game this season, but it doesn't mean the Cougars can't also run. Kyle Porter and Mulbah Car form a nice one-two punch in the backfield. Porter led the team with 616 rushing yards last season. Car racked up 375 yards and three touchdowns in only four games. Both players will get plenty of carries to help take some pressure off Tune and the Cougar receivers.
Tulane seemed to find a groove on offense against Southern Miss and it's reasonable to expect the Green Wave can carry that momentum into this week against a Houston squad that hasn't played a single snap yet this season. The Cougars return plenty of experience from last season, but they are also coming off their worst season in 15 years. Tulane isn't going to make it easy for Houston to get a fresh start this fall.
Prediction: Tulane 34, Houston 31
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports, and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.