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UH football: Previewing the Cougars AAC opener against Tulane

UH football’s Ta’Zhawn Henry rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown in the Cougars’ win over Rice last weekend. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

UH football’s Ta’Zhawn Henry rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown in the Cougars’ win over Rice last weekend. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

The UH football program entered the 2022 season with one goal in mind: to end its final year in the American Athletic Conference by hoisting the league’s championship trophy.

The path to a conference title begins on Friday night, as the Cougars host Tulane to open up AAC play:

A look at Tulane

The Green Wave caught the public’s eyes when it knocked off Kansas State on the road to start the season 3-0.

A surprising loss to Southern Miss in Week 4 has Tulane sitting at 3-1 entering conference play.

Offensively, Tulane is led by junior quarterback Michael Pratt, who UH has faced in each of the previous two seasons.

“Pratt’s the engine that makes them go,” said UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk.

Pratt is yet another dual-threat quarterback that the Cougars will be tasked with containing. Through four games, the 6-foot-2-inch quarterback has thrown for 905 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 197 yards and a score, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

Pratt is one of three players on Tulane with over 100 rushing yards this season.

Junior running back Tyjae Spears leads the Green Wave in both rushing yards (205) and rushing touchdowns (6). His counterpart, freshman Iverson Celestine, has amassed 163 yards on 36 carries.

Through the air, Pratt spreads the ball around as well as anyone in the country. In just four games, Pratt has completed a pass to 19 different players.

Five Green Wave players have over 100 receiving yards led by senior receiver Shae Wyatt’s team-high 184 yards. Sophomore receiver Dea Dea McDougle leads the Green Wave in receptions with 10.

Defensively, the Tulane secondary is its strength. The Green Wave ranks No. 1 in the country against the pass, allowing a mere 102.5 yards per game through the air.

Tulane sits in the middle of the pack against the run, giving up 126.2 yards per game on the ground which is good for 51st nationally.

Senior linebacker Dorian Williams leads the way for Tulane in tackles with 26. Safeties Larry Brooks and Macon Clark each have 21 tackles. Clark and Williams account for half of the Green Wave’s interceptions, each having one.

Key questions for UH

Will UH cut down on penalties?

Penalties, penalties and more penalties have been the story of the season for the Cougars.

Through four games, UH leads the country in penalties (43) and yards lost via penalty (384).

The Cougars’ streak of double-digit penalties in every game this season has played a large role in the team’s shaky 2-2 start in nonconference play.

“I think we’re top of the food chain when comes to penalties in college football. Period,” said senior defensive lineman D’Anthony Jones. “That’s the difference between being 2-2 and 4-0.”

If UH, the preseason favorite to win the AAC, is to have any chance at a conference title, cleaning up the abundance of penalties is a must. And it starts on Friday when the Cougars kick off league play against Tulane.

Who steps up for UH in Derek Parish’s absence?

UH’s win over crosstown rival Rice was costly as the Cougars’ lost their top defensive player in Derek Parish.

The senior defensive end suffered an injury near the end of the first half and did not return. On Monday, Holgorsen announced that Parish will miss the remainder of the season with a torn bicep.

Replacing the team’s leader in tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (5) is no easy task, but the Cougars believe they have the depth to do it by committee.

“There’s not a single person that can replace Derek Parish,” Jones said. “What we’re going to do is do it as a collective group. Sack Ave together.”

Senior Atlias Bell and juniors Nadame Tucker and Sedrick Williams are some of the names Holgorsen threw out as guys who must step up in Parish’s absence.

“We need the next guy to step in and go,” Holgorsen said.

How shorthanded will UH be?

The Cougars’ have been hard hit by the injury bug as the injuries to starters stem far beyond just Parish.

Sophomore left tackle Patrick Paul suffered an injury against Rice and did not return, forcing redshirt freshman Trevonte Sylvester to take his place.

Defensively, senior safety Gervarrius Owens, senior linebacker Donavan Mutin and senior cornerback Art Green have been nursing various injuries and will likely be game-time decisions.

How does UH match up with Tulane?

The battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball will be the major storyline of the Cougars’ clash against the Green Wave.

A year ago, Sack Avenue wreaked havoc on Pratt, sacking the Tulane quarterback eight times.

After not allowing a sack in its first two games, Tulane has given up six sacks over its last two games. While Sack Avenue will be without its leader in Parish, defensive ends like sophomore Nelson Ceasar and Jones are proven quarterback disruptors when going right.

On the other side of the ball, the UH offensive line is beaten up and Holgorsen has been forced to mix and match different combinations of guys tasked with protecting senior quarterback Clayton Tune.

The Tulane defensive line only has four sacks on the season and has been average defending the run, which is a positive for a UH offensive line bitten hard by the injury bug.

How to watch

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN. The game can also be listened to via radio on KPRC 950 AM.

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