Confident Cougars ready for Texas Bowl
The Cougars will have a chance to put a 27-year-old bowl drought to rest when they face Texas Christian University in the Texas Bowl Dec. 28 at Reliant Stadium.
Houston (8-4) has lost seven straight bowl games dating back to the early 1980s. The last time the Cougars tasted a bowl win was in 1980 when they trounced Navy 35-0 in the Garden State Bowl.
History is surely not on Houston’s side, but interim head coach Chris Thurmond said the Cougars are not focused on what is in the record books.
"You want to put your best performance out there," Thurmond said. "When the game kicks off, is anybody running down the field thinking, ‘Golly we haven’t won a bowl game in so many years?’ No, they’re thinking about ‘Am I going to make this play?’ And that’s what we’re focusing on. Lets find a way to make plays and anticipate what’s going on as well as we can, and the outcome always takes care of itself."
With the exception the 56-7 loss to Tulsa on Nov. 10, the Cougars scored against their opponents almost at will this season, but TCU should present some challenges.
TCU (7-5) brings in one of the stingiest defenses in the nation. The Horned Frogs rank 16th in the nation in total defense, allowing 320 yards per game.
The Cougars rack up 513 yards per game and they know they need to establish their offense.
Senior running back Anthony Alridge has faced stacked defensive lines all season and does not expect any different.
"I definitely expect (TCU to stack the line)," Alridge said. "I wouldn’t expect anything different. If they don’t, I’m going to kill them. If they think they can play me with six people in the box then let them bring it on and we’ll do what we do. But if they stack nine in the box, (senior wide receivers) Donnie Avery and Jeron (Harvey) and (junior tight end) Mark Hafner are going to do what they do."
Turnovers were the story during the Cougars’ losses this season. Houston is ranked 106th out of 119 teams in turnovers. They gave the ball away 30 times in 12 games, and in the four losses, the Cougars turned the ball over 15 times.
Taking care of the ball is essential. Redshirt freshman quarterback Case Keenum said they have been working hard in practice to get things right.
"We’re making sure that we’re productive everyday in practice. We keep the tempo up and the energy levels up, and just concentrate on getting better everyday," Keenum said.
Horned Frog quarterback Andy Dalton hasn’t been too impressive on the season. Dalton has thrown 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a 58.9 completion percentage.
Running back Joseph Turner leads TCU in rushing with 587 yards and six touchdowns. Turner has an impressive 5.2 yards per carry, however his yards don’t add too much to their offense.
Despite their numbers, Thurmond said the Horned Frogs throw a lot at their opponents so the Cougars need to be prepared.
"Offensively, (TCU) will use a lot of the drop-back passing game, a lot of formations and a lot of options, so we’ll have to be at our best to play well in this game," Thurmond said.
Former UH head coach Art Briles left Houston to take the job of head coach at Baylor on Nov. 28. Since then Thurmond has been preparing the Cougars.
"It was a tough loss, but at the same time we haven’t lost a beat," Avery said. "I guess when you lose someone, someone else needs to step up, and coach Thurmond has stepped up to the plate."
Although Thurmond has control of the team now, he doesn’t intend to alter the Cougars’ style of play.
"We’ll do the same things," Thurmond said. "This offense was fourth in the nation and we went up and down the field on a lot of teams. We do not anticipate making any changes."
One way Thurmond took control was by allowing live hitting during the Cougars first practice. This was quite a change of pace for Houston since Briles never allowed hitting during practice.
"At first I looked at him like he was crazy," Avery said. "I said, ‘If this is what he wants then this is what he wants.’ I like a decision like that because it makes everything competitive, so you have to be competitive like it’s game day – that’s what it feels like out there."