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Saturday, September 23, 2023


Cougars to start Conference play

The UH football team (1-3) has dropped three consecutive games since their season-opener against Southern at Robertson Stadium, but are ready to hit the road again as they begin conference play against No. 23 East Carolina on Saturday.

"Whether we won every game or lost every game (in) the last four, it really wouldn’t matter because we’re now in conference play," UH head coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Sumlin said the difference between the two teams’ records is the Pirates’ ability to "win close games and make some plays at the end."

"They won the game at Virginia Tech with a blocked punt. The difference in the game (against Tulane) was a blocked field goal they ran back for a touchdown," Sumlin said.

The Cougars’ special teams had some success of their own – sophomore tight end Wesley Scourten earned Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week honors after blocking two kicks against Colorado State. The Cougars trailed the other team at halftime in their last two games and had opportunities to come back in the second half, but Sumlin said UH shouldn’t put itself in the situation of depending on big plays late in the game to win.

"We’ve got to start faster and not put ourselves in a hole and try to roar back at the end and run out of time," Sumlin said. "That frustrates everybody; everybody’s tired of that, so we’ve got to address that."

Senior offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer said the Cougars need to start the game with a higher energy level than they have the last three weeks.

"We don’t want to have to feel like we need to catch up in a game," he said. "We need to create energy and keep it."?Sumlin said another reason for the Pirates’ success is that ECU has veteran players comfortable with the system head coach Skip Holtz uses.

"I think he’s built a team from the ground up since he’s been there," Sumlin said. "(On the offensive line) they’ve got 10 or 11 guys that are juniors or seniors. They’re doing a nice job with a veteran team that’s been in a system for a while."

One of those veterans is senior quarterback Patrick Pinkney, who already has 917 yards and five touchdowns on the season.

"Pinkney is the guy that makes it all go. He can move around, he can throw it. He can put pressure on you on the perimeter with some read options," Sumlin said. "They run a variety of different things, and they’ve got… real good running backs."

Sumlin was referring to sophomore Jonathan Williams, who had 46 yards on six carries against NC State and returned the ball for four times for 94 yards in the game. Houston will depend on senior tight end Mark Hafner as the foundation of the Cougars’ offense. Hafner led the team with 73 yards and one touchdown on eight catches against Colorado State and has caught seven touchdown passes this season.

"He’s been a leader for us offensively. I think he’s a real good target down in the red zone, and obviously that’s translated into a lot of points for us," Sumlin said.

Despite the recent string of losses, Sumlin said the Cougars are ready to get some wins against C-USA opponents.

"We’ve still got all our goals and everything else out in front of us for this year," he said.

The game will be nationally broadcast on CBS College Sports and on radio AM-KBME. Live updates from the game will also be posted on The Daily Cougar’s Web site.

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