Cougars finally return home
After upsetting then-No. 23 East Carolina on the road, the Cougars will try to stay perfect in Conference USA as they host Alabama-Birmingham 7 p.m. Thursday at Robertson Stadium.
Houston (2-3, 0-2 C-USA) snapped a 3-game losing skid in its win over the Pirates. Thursday’s contest will be the Cougars’ first game in Houston since the season-opener against Southern in August.
"We are happy to be back home." head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "TV always helps, but as a coach and a player, you don’t always recognize that. You can’t hear the camera, but you can hear the people cheering for you, and that’s important."
The Cougars are 15-3 against C-USA opponents dating back to 2006, and senior defensive end Phillip Hunt has no doubts about this team’s ability to continue that dominance.
"I think we have a 100 percent chance at winning the conference," he said.
Last year’s 49-10 win over the Blazers and their recent upset of ECU have the Cougars feeling confident going into Thursday’s game.
"We talked after that game about maturity and how you handle things like that," Sumlin said. "We have a week and a half off, (we) had a good win over a ranked opponent on the road – now let’s see how good we are from a maturity standpoint, how we approach practice and how we continue from here."
The Cougars’ biggest obstacle to continuing their conference win streak is junior quarterback Joe Webb.
Webb has completed 107-of-188 passes and thrown seven touchdowns on the season. He also leads the Blazers in rushing, with 516 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
"He runs about 80 yards a game and then he throws (for) 220 yards a game. He is right at 300 yards of total offense just coming out of him," Sumlin said.
Stopping Webb will be up to the Cougar defense, which limited ECU to 275 yards of total offense in Houston’s 41-24 win.
"We need to contain him and be physical and limit his opportunities," Sumlin said.
One of the Cougars’ main defensive weapons will be Hunt. He has 20 tackles on the season, seven for loss, and five sacks, two against East Carolina.
"I see them double-teaming me a lot, but that happened last year, too, so it’s kind of a normal thing," Hunt said. "They do change the offense a lot to try to slide (the protection)."
To counter the Blazers’ offense, which averages 24.5 points per game, the Cougars will rely on freshman running back Bryce Beall, who emerged as the Cougars’ primary rusher since sophomore starter Andre Kohn was injured. He leads the team in rushing with 345 yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
"He has gotten better every week, and you can see it in his confidence," Sumlin said.
He said that confidence has carried over to the whole team since it began conference play.
"You see guys with more resolve," he said. "We still haven’t played our best football yet, and the team knows that. We can be a lot better. There is a lot to play for."