If Houston’s Physics Department could mast time travel, Major Applewhite could use a do-over for the past two weeks. Houston went into the SMU game fresh off a win over a top 25 USF team and promptly spit the bit in Dallas then doubled down with a stinker at home against Temple. Tulane will give Houston a challenge on Thursday night at home. Willie Fritz program is a win away from a bowl birth; something SMU deprived them of last season on a last-second goal line stop. Here’s what we know about the Green Wave:
Meet Justin McMillan
LSU transfer Justin McMillan has saved Tulane’s season. The Green Wave sat at 2-5 four weeks ago when Fritz turned to McMillan as his starting quarterback. They’ve since won three straight including two on the road against Tulsa and USF.
The Green Wave responded to the change with three straight 400 plus yard games. Typically the Wave have made their yards on the ground, but McMillan threw for 372 yards last week, a season-best for Tulane, against East Carolina.
If McMillan continues to show a competent passing hand, the Tulane offense will continue to benefit and diversify. In his first two starts, Tulane ran for 312 and 365 yards respectively. If Fritz had his choice, he’d bully teams with a running attack.
As for McMillan, he’s a Cedar Hill grad who signed with LSU out of the metroplex high school. He led the Horns to back to back state titles in 2013 and 2014. At LSU McMillan attempted one pass in three seasons and headed east down I-10 as a grad transfer last fall. He’s spent the early part of the season understanding and mastering a new offense and looks to be well on his way. He’s a dual threat and gives Houston a different look than the previous two weeks.
On Tulane’s Offense
The Wave run a pretty pedestrian 68 plays per game. They aren’t a tempo team; they are a running team. 68% of Tulane’s offensive snaps are run plays. That’s seventh most nationally, right in there with Georgia Tech and your service academy teams. That’s 47 rushing attempts a game.
On the year, Tulane complete under 50% of their pass attempts. McMillan’s insertion into the starting lineup hasn’t helped much. He’s completing 44% of his throws. Last week he had his most success throwing downfield, before the East Carolina game, McMillan averaged just over five yards per attempt. Against the Pirates, that number jumped to 13 thanks to several splash plays.
Points per possession have come into vogue recently as the measure of an offense or defense. If that’s your cup of tea, then Tulane won’t get you too excited. The Wave average 1.86 yards per possession, in the lower third of the FBS. The question for Tulane will be whether they can keep up with Houston in a shootout. That was also our question about Temple and SMU who both answered in the affirmative.
What’s at Stake
The loser of Thursday's game can go ahead and eliminate themselves from AAC West contention. With a win and an SMU loss, Tulane vaults to the top of the class with only a two-win Navy separating the Wave from an improbable divisional crown.
Houston will cheer for Memphis against the Ponies on Friday, and with a win over Memphis in the season finale, Houston comes all the way back to reclaim a crown that they probably shouldn’t have ever put at jeopardy.