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Friday, May 20, 2022

Football

Red zone offense proves to be a challenge for Cougars


Sophomore running back Ryan Jackson scored the Cougars' lone touchdown with less than one minute remaining in the game.  |  Courtesy of UH Athletics

Sophomore running back Ryan Jackson scored the Cougars’ lone touchdown with less than one minute remaining in the game. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

When sophomore running back Ryan Jackson rushed for an 8-yard touchdown with a minute remaining in the game, it was a long time coming.

Jackson’s nifty run made it a two-possession game and solidified the Cougars’ 22-13 win at Temple on Saturday. However, their other seven red zone possessions were just hard to watch.

During each of their previous visits to the red zone, the Cougars’ offense left too many points on the field. The Cougars were scoring three points instead of seven.

In three trips to the red zone, UH came away with no points.

Senior kicker Richie Leone converted five field goals and missed only one from 35 yards on the first possession of the game. Two drives in the second half ended with the Cougars turning the ball over. Sophomore running back Justin Hicks got stuffed inside the Temple 5-yard line on fourth down and freshman quarterback John O’Korn fumbled at the Temple 6-yard line when the Cougars had a chance to take command of the game.

When the season began, Leone added more responsibilities to his plate, but no one assumed the offense would depend on him this much, at least this soon.

“I have said a number of times publicly that Leone is the best punter and kicker in the nation, and I’m glad he’s in our program,” said head coach Tony Levine. “We needed him today, and he’s good. I’ve been doing this a long time, and he’s as good as I’ve ever been around.”

Fans must have watched the Cougars’ third down plays in the red zone while peeking through the cracks of their fingers. The offense stalled time after time.

“It was just the pressure, throughout the whole game; we were getting frustrated because we couldn’t get it in the end zone. We have to give credit to (Richie Leone),” Jackson said. “He did his job, and he put points on the board when we couldn’t.”

The Owls deserve a lot of credit, though. Despite surrendering 524 yards of offense to the Cougars, last season’s fastest team in college football, the Owls’ defense played a “bend but don’t break” mentality that worked, knowing the Cougars are a threat to score touchdowns at a rapid pace at any time they possess the ball.

It was a sloppy game played by both teams. The Owls had nine penalties and three turnovers, including an interception thrown to UH senior cornerback Zachary McMillian. Junior quarterback Connor Reilly and his intended receiver weren’t on the same page, as he was nowhere near the ball. McMillian looked as if he was playing right field and caught a pop fly. It was arguably the easiest interception of his career.

“To go on the road in the first conference game in the new conference for our program and to come out with the win is something that we needed,” Levine said. “We needed a game like this, and it’s good to get it early in the season. It’s good to get on this airplane, get back and have two weeks to prepare for Rice.”

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