NEW ORLEANS — Mark Hutson loves watching Houston play football.
It’s breakneck pace, free-wheeling style and explosive offensive results has Tulane’s interim football coach in awe when he’s on the living room sofa with the remote control in hand.
While Hutson’s view will be significantly better Thursday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, when the Green Wave (2-8, 1-5 Conference USA) host the No. 11 Cougars (9-0, 5-0), he’s not exactly giddy about the being the man in charge of outscoring them.
“I love watching them on TV,” Hutson said of Houston. “I do not like watching them when they are across the sideline from me. They are an exciting offense with one of the top college players in the country in (Case) Keenum, the quarterback. He has shattered most of the records and has the other ones in sight. They are so explosive and can take the ball-screen or toss reverse and go the distance at any time.”
The numbers alone are staggering.
The Cougars rank first nationally in total offense (617 yards per game), scoring (52.7 points per game), passing offense (72 percent completion rate), and first downs (29.1 per game). Facing Conference USA opponents, Houston’s statistics spike even higher, a byproduct of averaging 59.4 points in five league contests.
Individually, Keenum leads the country in production, gaining 405.8 yards per game. Patrick Edwards, Justin Johnson and Tyron Carrier each rank in the top seven for C-USA receiving yards, each eclipsing 600.
It’s an overload of offense that has led to an undefeated record and has Houston contending for a BCS bid, which would be the first in Conference USA’s history.
Thursday’s game in the Superdome is yet another hurdle on the path — one the Cougars can’t afford to trip over.
“With an offense like that, averaging over 50 points a game and over 600 yards a game — and if you look at the conference statistics, they’re almost 60 points a game in conference and almost 650 yards a game — they have dominated conference opponents,” Hutson said. “It’s certainly a big game for them. They won’t overlook us. This is an opportunity (for them) for a BCS (bid). This is an opportunity for them to stay undefeated and move up. This will be on national TV, and they’ll be in the spotlight.”
To Tulane, it serves as a rare opportunity to grab some of the spotlight.
In the midst of a tumultuous year, which included the forced resignation of coach Bob Toledo, a win over Houston could serve as perfect moment to make a positive national splash and regain some credibility.
“If we win this game, I honestly believe it changes the perception of our whole program and could have effects for years to come in terms of recruiting,” Tulane receiver Wilson Van Hooser said. “It could, by itself, give us a lot of momentum going into the offseason and maybe even in the coaching search. You don’t get a lot of chances like that as a player in your career. We know a lot is on the line.”
A 33-point underdog and mired in a seven-game losing streak, the Wave’s odds appear to be long. Tulane has trailed at the end of 28 consecutive quarters and hasn’t allowed fewer than 33 points since a Sept. 17 win over UAB.
“We really need to win this game,” Van Hooser said. “At the same time, we don’t have anything to lose, so we aren’t putting too much pressure on ourselves. I think it could be a lot of fun out there.”