Cougars’ defense bombarded in loss to Bulldogs
The Cougars’ 18-game home win streak came to abrupt end against Mississippi State, triggered by an early special teams miscue and the inability to stop the run. Mississippi State scorched the Cougars run defense for 409
rushing yards for the game.
UH scored on its opening drive to take a 7-0 lead, and countered on defense forcing a Miss St. punt after five plays. The punt by the Bulldogs’ Heath Hutchins to Patrick Edwards was muffed at the 11, swaying momentum for the rest of the game.
“Defensively, we stop them, force a punt, muff a punt, give them the ball at the seven and they score,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “It was a huge momentum swing at the beginning of the game.”
The Cougars’ defense struggled to contain the run in the first half, giving up 198 rushing yards on 27 carries, allowing the Bulldogs a perfect 3-3 on red zone conversions.
A first quarter injury to defensive lineman Matangi Tonga did not help the run defense, as the Bulldogs’ quarterback Chris Relf and running back Vick Ballard combined for 169 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the first half. The Bulldogs finished the half on a 33-3 run, exposing the Cougars’ run defense.
“We couldn’t really make any negative yardage plays defensively, they had a good scheme. They’re a well coached team,” Sumlin said.
The second half wasn’t any prettier as Ballard scored his third rushing touchdown of the game with a 12-yard scamper to the end zone only two minutes into the second half.
Relf was forced out of the game with an injury in the third quarter, and UH was able to cut the deficit to 40-17.
But the Bulldogs kept the ground game going, managing 218 second half rushing yards.
The special teams’ struggles continued with a missed 42-yard field goal by Matt Hogan with 7:21 remaining in first quarter, followed by a shanked punt by Richie Leone that went only 17 yards for the final play of the first half.
“That’s kind of how football goes; a lot of unexpected stuff happened out there, and as a team, you just got to be able to withstand the force out there. We could have done better facing the pressure,” linebacker Marcus McGraw said.
The Cougars struggled with the run earlier this season when they allowed UCLA to rack up 266 rushing yards Sept.28. Sumlin said that he knows the run defense has to pick it up.
“It’s a concern, particularly against our scheme. I don’t know how you can come out of this game and not be concerned, we lost Tonga in the first part of the game,” said Sumlin. “You can’t look at these statistics honestly and not be concerned.”
The Cougars’ five opponents this season are averaging 4.9 yards per carry, 212 rushing yards and 2.6 rushing touchdowns per game.