After regrouping, Cougars face uncertainty with new injuries
Entering the game against the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane, it looked as if the Cougars were almost back to full health — at least according to the depth chart — after dealing with several injuries and a couple of one-game suspensions.
That was not the case, though, when the clock expired Saturday night. With five regular season games left, the Cougars are forced to dig deep into their roster.
“We have a long season ahead, and some of these nicks and bruises aren’t going away,” said head coach Tom Herman. “We’ve got to manufacture some quality depth.”
The hurt catalog
At the start of the game, the offense was without two starters as redshirt sophomore running back Duke Catalon was ruled out for the third straight game with a concussion. Junior right guard Marcus Oliver sat out with a high ankle sprain.
Meanwhile, the defense was without senior linebacker Tyus Bowser, who has an orbital bone fracture, but they returned two starters — senior cornerback Brandon Wilson and senior linebacker Steven Taylor.
Early in the first quarter, the right side of the offensive line took another hit when junior tackle Na’Ty Rodgers went down with an apparent ankle injury. He ran through some drills on the sideline before heading to the locker room for further evaluation.
Rodgers did not return.
Later in the game, senior wide receiver Chance Allen took a hit to his neck after he made a catch. He had to be escorted off of the field and also did not return.
Then, late in the fourth, Taylor was on the ground after a play was over, and the medical team came to his aid. He was able to walk off the field on his own and eventually returned to the game.
Herman said that Taylor suffered an ankle injury and that his hand was smashed between two helmets.
When asked after the game if he had an update on the players, Herman said, “Nope, and you can add (junior linebacker) Matthew Adams and (sophomore defensive end) Jerard Carter to that list.”
Carter apparently suffered a stinger in the game that bothered him multiple times throughout and remained sidelined. Adams took a shot to his shoulder.
Adams’ injury happened in the first half, so he was able to get it worked on during halftime. He went out for a couple of plays in the third quarter, but was eventually pulled for the rest of the game.
After taking a step forward in regard to fielding a healthy team, the injuries present the Cougars with a limited selection of players.
‘Pretty banged up’
The Cougars are deep at certain positions, but to have to overcome seven injuries, especially to the starting corps, would be tough for any team.
One advantage that UH has, though, is that they’ve been playing short-handed all season.
Herman has said numerous times this season that the backups train just as hard as the starters.
“One of our four pillars of success is competitive focus, which means when your number is called you are trained properly to go make the play,” Herman said.
Junior running back Dillon Birden is a prime example of someone who has remained competitively focused.
Walking on to the team after a two-year stint at Blinn College, Birden did not play until the University of Connecticut game when Catalon first sat out. Entering the season, he was the fourth option behind Catalon, freshman Mulbah Car and redshirt freshman Kevrin Justice.
Since the UConn game, Birden has become the feature back while Catalon is out. In the Tulsa game, he ran for 82 yards on 14 carries and added three rushing touchdowns.
The Cougars need guys like Birden to step up and become capable playmakers in the absence of the starters if they expect to keep winning.
In the meantime, it will be up to Herman and his staff to make sure that whoever suits up is ready to play when they face Southern Methodist University.
“We are pretty banged up, but SMU is not going to care,” Herman said. “We’ve got to figure out how to get healthy and figure out a way to get the guys that aren’t banged up ready to play.”