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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Commentary

UH’s abandoned rush attack, implosion leads to Homecoming heartbreak


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UH abandoned rushing the ball with its running backs, and quarterback Greg Ward, in his fourth career start, was asked to do too much — 45 passing attempts and 18 carries — which resulted in a career-high three interceptions in the team’s 31-24 loss to Tulane on Saturday at TDECU Stadium. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

UH matched its season-high 53.3 third-down conversion rate and The Third Ward Defense extended its streak of forcing a turnover to 32 games while scoring a defensive touchdown. Both were ingredients that shooda cooda wooda extended the Cougars’ win streak to four and claim the top spot in the American Athletic Conference.

But Tulane — which entered Saturday tied for the worst conference record at 1-3 — came to play, and it tidal waved all over UH’s Homecoming game parade.

UH didn’t stay committed to the running game. Combine that with the implosion of four turnovers, two missed second-half field goals and three sacks, which “put us on long-yard situations that were tough to get out of,” you’ll suffer a 31-24 defeat to Tulane, like the season-high 32,000 plus in attendance at TDECU Stadium witnessed.

The Cougars (5-4; 3-2) currently sit tied for fifth in the standings and may have lost their best chance to win the conference after losing to a Green Wave team (3-6; 2-3) that had entered the game dropping four of their last five by an averaged 16-point scoring margin.

Credit Tulane, though. It scouted the heck out of Greg Ward, who was forced to throw an unnecessary 45 times. The speedy sophomore quarterback was often under duress. The Green Wave defense kept him in check and didn’t allow him to bust loose and dictate it as much as he did in the team’s three straight wins prior.

Unbalanced running game

Ward was often forced to scramble from one sideline to the other, and if you exclude his 18-yard rush on one of those improvisations, his yards per rush would’ve been 2.4.

He finished with 59 yards net rushing on a team-high 18 carries, five more than junior running backs Kenneth Farrow (8) and Ryan Jackson (5) combined.

You can’t win games like that

They were lucky to be in position to tie it up in the closing seconds. Stick to the formula that has rendered your success. Did you know that the Cougars have a 10-1 record (5-0 this season) when they rush the ball more than 35 times a game and just 4-12 when they don’t with Travis Bush as offensive coordinator? Albeit nine of those 20 the team was down an average of 25 points, which warranted more pass attempts. But in a game like this, UH should have kept committed to the run with its running backs.

It’s not like they were forced to throw as many times as they did; the game was close throughout. In fact, the Cougars held a 17-14 halftime lead and were just down four points entering the fourth.

Although his 68 completion percentage was nothing to sneeze at, Ward’s career-high passing attempts were way too many from a quarterback in just his fourth start — a career-high three interceptions was the result. Since Ward took over as the starter, the team was averaging more than 45 rush attempts a game entering Saturday’s contest. Ward had managed the games well and was turnover free in his last 10 quarters while averaging a steady 26 pass attempts a game and completed 76 percent of his passes.

Head coach Tony Levine said the running game against Tulane was “less effective than it had been.” However, with a split amount of carries between Ward and his two backs, I believe a different result would have transpired.

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During the Cougars recent three-game win streak, junior Kenneth Farrow (35) had averaged at least 19 touches and scored four touchdowns. On Saturday, the running back got only nine in the Cougars’ 81 offensive plays in the team’s 31-24 defeat to Tulane at TDECU Stadium. | Jimmy Moreland/ The Cougar

Against Memphis, Temple and South Florida combined, neither Ward, Farrow nor Jackson averaged more than four attempts over another.The running attack had averaged 184 yards a game. On Saturday, the Cougars rushed for just 90 with 2.8 yards per carry. But that wasn’t the only aspect to look at from the loss; the Green Wave defense was pretty damn good.

Too many Cougar turnovers

Tulane entered the game with 21 forced turnovers. It forced four UH ones— and it needed every one to earn just the team’s third win of the season. Parry Nickerson picked off Ward at the goal line for the Tulane defensive back’s conference-leading sixth interception as time expired.

Shooting themselves in the foot

UH committed six penalties for 51 yards, including a crucial defensive holding call on third-down by junior safety Trevon Stewart. The Green Wave’s incomplete pass play would’ve forced a punt; instead, running back Dontrell Hilliard broke loose on a 63-yard pass play three snaps later for the 14-7 lead. Kicker Kyle Bullard missed two third-quarter field goals in the midst of Tulane’s 17-unanswered points.

“We’re going to put this behind us and get our rest during the bye week,” said senior linebacker Efrem Oliphant, who recorded a game-high 13 total tackles.

Oliphant, whose team’s next game will be Nov. 22 when it hosts Tulsa, said he and the team must put the tough loss behind them, and that “all our goals are out ahead of us and we have to prepare for the next week.”

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