The Green Wave (2-8, 1-6 in CUSA) are led by interim head coach Mark Hudson, who was named the universities 38th head coach on October the 18th, replacing Bob Toledo who resigned after a meager 15-40 record in four and a half seasons as the head skipper. The team has lost all three of its games under Hudson (by an average of almost twenty points). The breaking point of the Toledo era came on a 33-17 homecoming loss to Memphis (you have to be really bad to lose to Memphis). Hudson on the effort of his team despite their struggles, via tulanegreenwave.com, "Their effort is there and the attitude is, too. The players and the coaching staff are working hard. The results on the scoreboard aren't there. We have to just continue in what we're doing, continue working, the players giving that effort and the players playing with that attitude. We have to continue to eliminate the mental mistakes. It's been said that mental mistakes lose games. Physical mistakes lose ground. Now, we have to go to the one-on-one physical areas where those players as part of the whole have to dominate their area physically and do their part - whether it be offensive line or defensive line - in each segment and then carry it over into our three team phases."
Hudson on being named interim head coach on Oct. 18th, "I've dreamed of being in the position in front of you and addressing the team. I've had a lot of great mentors in the past, from Houston Nutt, Danny Ford, Jack Crowe, Barry Switzer, Jim Donnan. It could go on, Larry Coker, Jimmy Johnson. I have learned from each one of them and the thing I learned is you have to be yourself. You can't be someone else. As we get to know each other and as time goes on, we'll try and present that to you, we'll try and present that to this team and I'll try and present that to this staff." This will be Hudson's second interim head coaching job. The first was in 2006 when he led the Eastern Illinois Panthers to a co-Ohio Valley conference championship with a 8-5 record (7-1 in conference play).
Hudson on the Green Wave's offense and offensive coordinator Greg Davis Jr.(yes, his father is THAT Greg Davis), the Tulane 12 year assistant coach whom had been named the game day play caller upon Hudson's promotion, "We'd love to be balanced, but again it's not going to be 50-50 every week. The game situation will dictate that. What the defense is allowing us every week will dictate what that ratio is."
Tulane throws the ball about thirty four times per game while averaging 237.3 passing yards per game, which ranks 55th in the nation. Their starter is junior Ryan Griffin, whom has 5,853 career passing yards to go along with 35 touchdown passes in 27 career starts. Griffin has been pulled a few times this season, for more athletic junior D.J. Ponder. Hudson on Griffin's status as Tulane's starting QB, "Ryan is our best quarterback. He's our No. 1 quarterback and as a staff, we feel that he gives us the best opportunity to win. As far as playing D.J., should the role be necessary or should Ryan need relief, to go in and do that is a back-up role. That's still being looked at in the game plan. He is the back-up quarterback and should the need be, he will go into the game." For the season Griffin has completed 177 of 298 passes (59 percent completion percentage) for 2,100 yards and ten passing TDs. He has also thrown seven interceptions.
Griffin likes to spread out the pass receptions so defenses can't key in on one person. Five of their athletes have at least 20 receptions. Their running back, Orleans Darkwa is actually the team's receptions leader w/ 29 (for 282 yards). Joe Kemp is their leading receiver with 23 career starts. The 6-foot-4, 205 pound athlete has 258 yards on 26 receptions. He is also scheduled to become a United States Marine in the summer of 2012. Justyn Shackleford has 366 yards on 27 catches while Wilson Van Hooser has 383 yards on 27 catches and also leads the team with four TDs. The Green Wave employ a pro style set and they like to throw to their tight ends and fullbacks as well. Fullback Kasey Stelly is a locomotive coming out of the backfield and has nine receptions on the year while tight end Matt Marfisi is a mismatch waiting to happen at 6-6 250 pounds. The Cougar linebackers will have their hands full covering them out in space. Cougar's linebacker Phillip Steward might enjoy covering a guy his size rather than the smaller slot receivers he had been covering in recent games.<
The Green Wave average only 114 yards rushing the ball, which ranks them 102nd nationally. Their leading rusher is the aforementioned Darkwa who has 686 yards on the season along with nine TDs on the ground.
You would think (just as last week versus UAB) that the Green Wave would average more yards on the ground with a veteran offensive line (they combine for 98 career starts entering play Thursday night), led by left tackle Pat Hussain and his 29 career starts. They average a tad over 300 pounds per man along their offensive front but the Cougars should be able to use their quickness in harassing Griffin and Tulane's running game. The Coogs average a CUSA leading (and 2nd nationally) 8.8 tackles for loss per game, behind rush linebacker Sammy Brown – whom leads the nation with 21.5 TFL. He also has 9.5 sacks which ranks him 2nd in CUSA and 3rd nationally.
Third year assistant Steve Stanard is the defensive coordinator for Tulane. He has been a defensive coordinator for various schools for over seventeen years and graduated from the University of Nebraska, coached then by legend Tom Osborne whom he was a graduate assistant under.
They allow 36 points per game which is 111th in the nation while giving up an average of 388 total yards per game (68th). On the ground they surrender "only" 161 rushing yards per game (63rd) while allowing opponents to pass for 227 yards through the air (63rd). They play a 4-3 scheme featuring defensive end Dezman Moses, who is 5th in CUSA with six and a half sacks. Their star is middle linebacker Trent Mackey who is second in the entire nation with 127 total tackles, including 12 TFL, 3.5 sacks and one interception and fumble recovery. He reminds me of Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher in that he lays hits all over the field. While not as big as Urlacher (227 pounds to 250ish) he is a ferocious hitter. Cougars slot receivers Tyron Carrier and Justin Johnson need to be on the look out for number twenty on quick slants in the middle of the field. Their secondary is led by safeties Shakiel Smith and Derrick Strozier whom have 53 and 39 tackles on the year respectively. Corner back Ryan Travis has four interceptions on the season. The Cougars should be able to pound Tulane's defensive front with the running game, even without Bryce Beall – whom the Cougars might hold out for the stretch run versus SMU, Tulsa and a possible CUSA championship game. Michael Hayes and Charles Sims have filled in more than admirably during Beall's absence, with Hayes 553 yards and Sims 451 yards right behind him. Both have seven rushing TDs.
Tulane has allowed three blocked kicks this season, which could be a good thing for the Cougars special teams - who have two on the season themselves. The Green Wave allow 26 yards per kickoff return, ranking them 114th nationally. Look for them to kick away from Carrier as nobody wants to be the team to allow him to break the NCAA record for kickoff returns for touchdown. Carrier currently has six, tying him with former Clemson great C.J. Spiller. Their one positive on special teams is punt returner Derrick Strozier's 10 yard per return average.
I look for the Cougars to dominate as they realize what's at stake down the stretch of the season. There is no way Tulane can handle Cougars quarterback Case Keenum and this offense, which are putting up X-box numbers at this point in leading the nation in scoring, passing and total offense (52.7, 457.1 and 617 respectively).
The Cougars main opponent this game will probably be themselves, as head coach Kevin Sumlin stated earlier this year, "Our fans expect us to win and that perception is out there. That's a hell of a lot better than the alternative. With that expectation you just have to go out and play. As I've said from day one I worry more about us than the other team. Our job as coaches is to take care of us and deal with the things that affect us being able to be successful.Those expectations will definitely be met this game. Final prediction: Houston – 53 Tulane - 10