Tulsa Golden Hurricane (4-1 SU, 2-3 ATS) vs. Houston Cougars (5-1 SU, 4-2 ATS)
College Football Week 7
Date/Time: Saturday, October 15, 2016 at 7PM EST
Where: TDECU Stadium, Houston, Texas
TV: ESPN 2
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: TLSA +21/HOU -21
Over/Under Total: 71
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane come to TDECU Stadium to face the Houston Cougars in AAC action on Saturday. The Golden Hurricane won their second straight overtime game last Friday with a 43-40 win over SMU in their AAC conference opener. They’re hoping for big things with the conference’s top dog the Houston Cougars. Any College Football Playoff hopes the Cougars had were dashed with an upset loss to Navy on Saturday, 46-40. Can Houston shake that off in time to get back to business this week against a dangerous Tulsa bunch?
Tulsa opened the season with a big win over San Jose State, 45-10, before being served up as a sacrificial lamb to Ohio State in Columbus, losing 48-3. A win over North Carolina A&T followed, before the Golden Hurricane were really put to the test against Fresno in a long road trip. Down by the score of 31-0, the Golden Hurricane rallied and somehow managed to take it overtime, where they won, 48-41. Last Friday in their conference debut, the Golden Hurricane went back and forth with SMU, notching yet another overtime win. After winning 11 games in 2013, the Golden Hurricane won 5 games in the next two seasons, before going 6-7 last year. At 4-1, they’re looking for a return to their best form and the signs are positive thus far. Beyond the X’s and O’s, we’re seeing a team that is already battle-tempered this season, while having been forced to overcome a lot of adversity.
Houston better prepare to stop the run, with Tulsa really pounding it through five games this season. They’ve been getting incredible workhorse performances from running back DeAngelo Brewer. In the past two games alone, he has run the rock 84 times for 424 times. He gets a big assist from James Flanders, who has run for 390 yards and four touchdowns. Experienced starting QB Dane Evans carries with him a lot of experience and pain, which should resonate at some point. He has 9 TDs and 7 picks, which suggests he’s been off his peak form after throwing 25 TDs and 8 picks last season. But the Golden Hurricane seems more run-inclined this year. Still, they have nice targets in Keevan Lucas, Josh Atkinson, and Justin Hobbs, who do most of the heavy lifting for the Tulsa pass-game. They’re averaging nearly 40 points a game and appear to be clicking with 149 points in their last three games.
For the purposes of this game, the Golden Hurricane defense looks to be the major Achilles heel. When you’re giving up point totals in the 40’s to the likes of Fresno and SMU, that doesn’t bode well when about to face the explosive Cougars. Still, even when giving up a lot of points, there have been stretches of these games where the defense looked capable. They just don’t seem to be able to string together a solid 60 minutes. Getting a big number against Houston, they don’t need to be great. A few stops here and a turnover there, and that would do the trick. They don’t have to be great this week for backers to get a cover.
Looking back, it’s perhaps easier to see why Houston hit a wall against Navy on week 6. That Navy option offense is not what a weary team needs to play. Navy controlled the clock and took the wind out of Houston. The Cougars have had some quirky scheduling this season and Ward, Jr., not a big guy, had been battered to the point where he has been left a diminished force, though still a compelling one. They just couldn’t get over the hump against a Navy team that played a really good game.
It might not be that productive to go back in time to dock credit from teams after the fact, but Houston’s season-opening win over Oklahoma was probably not the cataclysmic game-changer some made it to be. Nothing that happened after that really did anything to diminish the Houston image, but their placement among the elite seemed tenuous at best. Ward, Jr. did manage 359 yards in the air and 94 more on the ground on Saturday, but he’s laboring a bit and took some big hits on Saturday. They had some big performances in the passing-game, with Linell Bonner, Steven Dunbar, and Chance Allen all making massive contributions. And they showed pluck in hanging in there, but it wasn’t meant to be on Saturday, as Navy really stepped up and took it. Two Ward picks, one of which was returned for a TD, really were critical.
The Houston defense, which has been a big part of them getting back into the spotlight, didn’t really deliver on Saturday. They’re pretty banged up and awaiting the return of some key pieces, which could help. Before they lost to Navy, they had been pretty good, especially against the run and that didn’t manifest at all this past week. Now the job is to determine if this is a real problem or just a quirk in the storyline. After giving up 23 to Oklahoma, Houston allowed only 33 points in their next 4 games. They were shutting the run down. So to give up 46 points and over 300 yards on the ground to Navy was eyebrow-raising, especially as they prepare to face a Golden Hurricane team that looks to have found some answers with their ground-attack.
How does Houston bounce back? Do they hang their heads or come back with fire? They can still get into a marquee bowl if they get back on the right track. But it’s hard to go from a team looking for a possible championship to having to recalibrate your whole set of expectations, as the really big stuff is almost certainly off the table after losing to Navy. Houston will bounce back, but maybe Tulsa can provide more resistance that anticipated.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Tulsa golden Hurricane plus 21 points.
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