Houston looks to trample the Herd
The Cougars’ overall record does not say much, but their Conference USA mark says plenty.
Heading into today’s 7 p.m. matchup against Marshall in Huntington, W.Va., Houston (4-3, 3-0 C-USA) has sole possession of second place in the Western Division behind Associated Press No. 19 Tulsa (8-0, 5-0 C-USA). A win over Marshall would keep the Cougars in the thick of the race for the Western title.
As an incentive, the Cougars will have a chance to do so in front of a national ESPN, audience.
Last season, the Cougars and the Thundering Herd met for the first time, and the Cougars claimed a 35-28 victory. Marshall (3-4, 2-1 C-USA) enters today’s game looking to end a three-game losing streak after a promising 3-1 start.
To do that, the Thundering Herd must figure out a way to stop the Cougars’ high-powered spread offense.
Led by sophomore quarterback Case Keenum, the Cougars are third in the nation in total offense (544.29 yards per game) and second in passing offense (404.3 yards per game). Keenum is second in the nation in passing yards per game (384.43). Senior tight end Mark Hafner has a team-leading 52 receptions for 569 yards and eight touchdowns.
Marshall head coach Mark Snyder, however, has his eyes on more than just Keenum, Hafner and the Cougars’ other receivers.
"They’ve found themselves a running back, and it’s balanced out their offense, and I think that’s why they’re having some success right now," Snyder said in an Oct. 21 press conference.
That running back is freshman Bryce Beall, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the Cougars’ last three games, all wins. Beall, who stepped in earlier this season when injuries took down sophomore Andre Kohn and freshman Jackie Hinton, Jr., has rushed for 557 yards and seven touchdowns in seven games.
"One guy’s misfortune is another guy’s opportunity, and some guys are taking advantage of that," Cougar head coach Kevin Sumlin said of Beall.
While Keenum and Beall bring the heat on offense, senior defensive end Phillip Hunt will do the same on defense. Hunt has 10 sacks and leads the nation in sacks per game (1.43).
"There comes opportunities when the game is on the line and somebody has to make play," Hunt said. "Obviously, I feel like I’m that guy for my team, so I have to step up and do whatever it takes to get the sack."
Marshall’s biggest offensive threat is senior wide receiver Darius Passmore, who leads the team with 43 catches for 724 yards and five touchdowns. Passmore will have to beat Houston junior cornerback Brandon Brinkley, who leads the team with four interceptions. Brinkley returned one of those picks 35 yards for a touchdown in the Cougars’ come-from-behind 45-20 win over Alabama-Birmingham on Oct. 8.
This is essentially a must-win game for both teams. The Cougars need a win to keep pace with Tulsa, and Marshall needs a win to strengthen its run at a postseason bowl.
"It’s a perfect time for a bounce-back game," Snyder said.
UH vs. Marshall When: 7 p.m. today Where: Edwards Stadium, Huntington, W.Va On the air: ESPN 2, 740 KTRH