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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Football

Cougars face must-win situation against Southern Miss


Looking to bounce back from their loss in the Homecoming game against Tulsa, the Cougars will be put to the test this Saturday when the team travels to Hattiesburg, Miss., to face off against Southern Mississippi and the No.

Center Jordan Shoemaker (73) and the rest of the UH offensive line hope to limit interceptions Saturday by keeping the pressure away from quarterback David Piland and giving him plenty of time to throw in the pocket. | Jairo Razo/The Daily Cougar

1 ranked rush defense in Conference USA.

The Cougars (5-5, 4-3 C-USA) fell 25-28 last week to Tulsa after freshman quarterback David Piland threw a season-high five interceptions. Heading into Saturday’s contest against the Golden Eagles, the team is still in contention for a slot in the conference championship and a bowl bid.

“They are going to be running all kinds of things,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “We are going to have to be on our toes defensively. Offensively, we are going to see a big, strong defensive front and some real fine athletes in that second level. It’s your typical Southern Miss team. They’re an athletic, tough team and they play very well together.”

The Golden Eagles (7-3, 4-2 C-USA) recently made national headlines when linebackers Martez Smith and Tim Green and senior defensive lineman Deddrick Jones were seriously injured after being shot inside of a club Sunday. All three players still remain hospitalized.

“Right now, we are worried about this week,” Sumlin said. “We are worried about how we can move the ball and score points. Obviously, we are a better team when we are balanced. I think it’s a bit of a misnomer conceptually because we are a lot more balanced than we were two years ago as far as running the ball.”

After losing to Tulsa, the Cougars are surrendering 29.2 points per game and 204 rushing yards to opponents. The defense delivered a consistent performance against the Hurricane, holding them to 28 points and forcing five punts, but the Cougars weren’t able to come away with the win.

Sumlin said the performance from his defense was one of the best he has seen this season, but the Southern Miss. offense presents challenges.

“They’re going to attack us on all cylinders,” Sumlin said. “They’ve got weapons on the outside and receivers. Probably the biggest difference from last year is the loss of the running backs, but the way Austin Davis is playing, he has kind of picked up the slack for the running game.”

For running back Bryce Beall, it will be his first visit to M.M. Roberts Stadium. Beall said that he has been told it is a rowdy environment to play in, but he is eager to hush up the crowd.

“We want to give our seniors a chance to go to a bowl game and extend their career as far as we can,” Beall said. “We will go out there and try to get that sixth victory. We will see what happens; you never know what will happen in Conference USA.”

Beall will join his counterpart Michael Hayes in the backfield to take on the No. 1-ranked rush defense in the conference.

Beall said that this week’s game is a must-win situation for the Cougars and that the players are ready to face the challenge.

“We have seen this before,” Beall said. “We are just going to have to go out there, read our keys, be physical, make plays and try to do what we have been doing all year and be consistent.”

Stuffing the run

The Golden Eagles have stopped opponents from utilizing the running game, holding opponents to 110.8 yards per game. The Golden Eagles are also averaging 34.2 points per game. Quarterback Austin Davis has recorded 10 touchdown passes in his last four games.

The junior quarterback poses a threat in the running game, with six rushing touchdowns so far this season. Sumlin said that Davis’ style of play was similar to that of Tulsa’s quarterback — he runs when he sees open field.

“They are now the number one rush defense in the league,” Sumlin said. “We will have a plan for what we want to do. Every week presents something different to coaches. Anything that is successful against you; you have got to improve against that.

“When you face teams that are quarterback-run designed teams, then it becomes a gap-responsibility-type of situation. With the added gap or the added blocker, you have to fit things exactly right and tackle them.”

Saturday’s matchup will be airing at 7 p.m. on CBS College Sports.

Following Saturday’s game, the Cougars will prepare for the final game of the season against Texas Tech on Nov. 27 in Lubbock.


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