HOUSTON — The University of Houston closed out 70-year-old Robertson Stadium on a positive note Saturday night.
Tulane closed out its first season under coach Curtis Johnson in all-too-familiar fashion.
Houston jumped out to a 17-0 lead on its first three possessions and never looked back in a 40-17 win.
The Green Wave (2-10, 2-6 Conference USA), clinched a second consecutive double-digit loss season and 10th straight with a losing record.
Despite the loss, Johnson remained optimistic about his young team’s future.
“I thought we were flat when we came out,” Johnson said. “But we have a never-quit program. They are going to fight you to the finish. Great attitudes. Great kids.
“We fought back, but that is a good team we were playing. We were just a little outmatched today.”
Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin completed 36 of 66 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns. It was Griffin’s fifth 300-yard passing game of the year. He finished his Tulane career with the most completions (836) in school history. He also threw a career-high four interceptions, including one on his final collegiate pass.
“I think we had some good drives, but we obviously turned the ball over too many times,” Griffin said. “We had a lot of adversity early on this season, but we stuck together as a family. I’m definitely going to miss it.”
Defensively, the Green Wave forced three interceptions. Freshman Lorenzo Doss recorded his team-high fifth interception — the most by a freshman since David Lee also had five in 1972.
“His parents came to me at the start of the season and said they didn’t want him to be a defensive back, but he has been great. I think he is one of the best in the country,” Johnson said
Also, kicker Cairo Santos finished the season 21-of-21 on field goals. He made his 21st field goal – a 32 yarder – in the third quarter. The junior is a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.
“It’s bittersweet,” Santos said. “My goal at the beginning of the season was 80 percent, and I made it 100. The best thing you want to have as a kicker is a coach that trusts you from long distance, and (Johnson) is awesome.”
Houston (5-7, 4-4) didn’t have the type of season it expected after going 13-1 last year but finished strong under first-year coach Tony Levine.
“This was a challenging season and there were some disappointments, but I am proud of how they finished,” Levine said. “I’m proud of our seniors, for the pride they have in our program and finishing the last game in Robertson Stadium.
The Cougars were led by Crawford Jones, who completed 25-of-46 passes for 368 yards, while Ryan Jackson ran 16 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
“We were able to hit some things quick in the first two drives,” Jones said. “They had a really good defense. I don’t think their record showed how talented they are.”
After falling behind 17-0, Tulane battled back to 20-10 and 27-17 in the third quarter, but the Cougars kept answering Tulane’s comeback.
Jackson ran 72 yards down the Houston sideline for a touchdown to make it 27-10 and scored again in the fourth quarter to put the Cougars up 40-17.
Tulane dug itself a hole early, however.
It took Houston less than a minute to get the scoring started as Kenneth Farrow ran the first play from scrimmage 48 yards down the Houston sideline. Three plays later, Jones hooked up with Ronnie Williams for a 22-yard touchdown.
Tulane moved the ball on its opening possession, but Griffin was intercepted by Phillip Steward. The Cougars then marched 80 yards in eight plays, capping it off with another Jones-to-Williams TD for a 14-0 early lead.
After a quick three-and-out for the Green Wave, UH moved the ball 56 yards on its third possession, leading to a 32-field goal by Hogan.
The Green Wave finally got going in the second quarter, marching 80 yards in 11 plays, highlighted by a 10-yard TD strike from Griffin to Xavier Rush. Tulane trailed 20-7 at halftime.
Wilson Van Houoser scored after recovering his own fumble in the end zone after a 51-yard pass, but that was Tulane’s final score. Houston scored the final 13 points, closing out any thought of a Tulane comeback.
Houston finishes 72-44-1 all-time in Robertson Stadium, which will be torn down soon. The Cougars will return to a new on-campus stadium in 2014. UH is in negotiations to play its home games in Reliant Stadium next year. … The announced attendance was 25,402. … Tulane hasn’t won a season finale since it beat East Carolina in 2003. … Tulane has lost 10 straight to the Cougars, who will not be on their schedule regularly in the future as the Cougars move to the Big East.