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Saturday, September 30, 2023


C-USA NOTEBOOK: Football must fix first-half cohesion

Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin has seen enough through six games to know he has a good squad.

He’s seen plenty of evidence of this in second halves of games, but not as much as he’d like in first halves.

Through six games, the Cougars (3-3, 2-0 Conference USA) have been mostly a second-half team. The statistics don’t lie.

The Cougars have outscored their opponents 88-85 in the first halves of those games, a figure made even less impressive when considering the 38-3 halftime lead they had in the season opener against Southern, a Football Championship Subdivision program.

This doesn’t compare to the Cougars’ efficiency in second halves, where they’ve outscored opponents 143-77.

Houston provided another example of this second-half dominance in Thursday’s 45-20 win over Alabama-Birmingham. The Cougars trailed 20-3 in the halftime, but scored 42 unanswered points to claim their second consecutive win.

Sumlin was happy the Cougars pulled out the win, but you get the sense he would like to see his team get going much earlier in games.

"I still think our best football is ahead of us," Sumlin said. "When we put it all together, we can beat anybody."

Close call

Tulsa knew it would be tested at some point this season. The Golden Hurricane, however, probably didn’t think one of Conference USA’s worst teams would be the one to issue the exam.

Southern Methodist gave Tulsa all it could handle for three quarters before the Hurricane rallied in the fourth quarter to snatch a 37-31 win Saturday in Dallas. The comeback gave Tulsa its first 6-0 start since 1942 and improved its C-USA record to 3-0.

SMU, which fell to 1-6 and 0-4 in C-USA, held a 31-24 lead entering the fourth, but Tulsa senior quarterback David Johnson found sophomore wide receiver Trae Johnson on a 33-yard touchdown pass to tie the game. Sophomore wideout A.J. Whitmore gave the Hurricane the lead with an 8-yard touchdown run with 8:40 remaining, and the defense took care of the rest.

It was a narrow escape for Tulsa, which won its first five games by an average margin of 31.6 points.

"We’re 6-0, but it scared the living heck out of us," Tulsa head coach Todd Graham told the Associated Press. "We hadn’t won of those games until now. It’s one of those games championship teams have to win."

Trae Johnson was even more blunt.

"We knew we dodged a bullet," he said.

Back from the dead

On Sept. 20, Texas-El Paso stood 0-3 after a close loss to New Mexico State and looked to be headed instead for its third consecutive losing season. Head coach Mike Price pledged the Miners would keep fighting, despite their grim start.

Price was right

The Miners came from behind to defeat Tulane 24-21 on Saturday for their third consecutive win. More importantly, UTEP (3-3) improved to 3-0 in C-USA, putting it in the thick of the hunt for the Western Division title.

Mind you, UTEP’s wins have come over Central Florida, Southern Miss and Tulane, teams with a combined 6-12 record, but the Miners are in no position to be picky. They’re just grateful to be back from the dead.

Extra points

Houston senior defensive end Phillip Hunt tied a career-high with three sacks in Thursday’s win over UAB…. With Saturday’s 24-7 loss to Associated Press No. 15 Boise State, Southern Miss has lost three consecutive games for the first time since 2004…. With Saturday’s win, Tulsa snapped a six-game losing streak at SMU dating back to 1991…. Houston sophomore quarterback Case Keenum has thrown for 300-plus yards for seven consecutive games, dating back to last season.

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