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Friday, September 29, 2023


FOOTBALL: Cougars looks to defeat rival, earn spot in C-USA title game

The No. 25 Cougars head into Saturday’s game against Rice knowing they need a win to ensure themselves a Conference USA West Division title and a spot in the C-USA championship game.

UH (9-2, 5-2 C-USA) was in a similar position last season heading into the Bayou Bucket Classic against Rice (2-9, 2-5) and were dispatched by the Owls, 56-42, at Rice Stadium. That’ loss that ended the Cougars’ hopes of playing in the title game.

Although’ they still face a win-and-get-in scenario, Rice will field a completely different team this time around.

Gone are quarterback Chase Clement, receiver Jaret Dillard and tight end James Casey ‘- all integral components of last season’s high-powered offense. Not surprisingly, the Owls are nowhere near their 10-3 record from a year ago, but should not be discounted heading into the rivalry matchup.

Rice has won its last two games and seems to have corrected many of its early-season issues. After being outscored 395-147 in their first nine games, the Owls hold a 58-49 advantage from their last two games.

The Owls have benefited from improved play at the quarterback position, with sophomore Nick Fanuzzi taking over after splitting time early in the season with Ryan Lewis and John Shepherd. In the Owls’ last two games, Fanuzzi has completed 23 of 41 passes for 259 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception.

In a 30-29 home win over UTEP last Saturday, the Owls forced six fumbles, recovering five, and intercepted a pass, thereby winning the turnover battle.

UH comes into the contest having played a complete game in a 55-14 win over Memphis. Unlike previous games in which UH jumped out to an early lead, the Cougars turned a 21-0 first-quarter advantage into a 42-14 halftime lead.

If the Cougars’ lose, they will still’ earn a spot in the C-USA title game if Tulane defeats SMU on Saturday.

Who and where’ UH would play in the conference championship will also be known by the’ 7 p.m. kickoff, with UH traveling to Greenville, N.C., to take on East Carolina if the Pirates win their game against Southern Miss. If the Golden Eagles defeat the Pirates, the Cougars would host the Dec. 5 championship game.

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