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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Commentary

Cougars catch break after two months, nine games


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The Cougars have their first bye week of the season before playing two games in five nights for the third time this season. | Ajani Stewart/The Cougar

Entering week 10, the Cougars have played at least one more game than every team that is currently in the AP Top 25.

Although the Cougars likely would’ve enjoyed a break at the beginning of October, especially after playing two Thursday night games in September, their first bye week of the season comes at an important time of the year as the team tries to salvage what is left of their season.

The Cougars, after a busy September that saw them go 5-0, showed the first signs of wear when they stumbled against the United States Naval Academy. The team lost by one possession despite being minus-2 in turnover margin and giving up more than 300 yards on the ground.

The Cougars finished October 2-2, although they were favored heavily in three of the four games.

In their most recent game against the University of Central Florida, the Cougars were only 9.5-point favorites and failed to meet the spread for the fourth week in a row following a come-from-behind 31-24 win.

The Cougars were outscored 139-125 and were minus-five in turnover margin during that same time period. In the first five games, though, UH outscored their opponents 221-56 and were plus-two in takeaways.

During October, the Cougars had injuries within every positional group except for quarterback. Greg Ward Jr., however, has dealt with an ailing shoulder since the season opener versus the University of Oklahoma.

The offensive line and the defensive backs, two groups that already had serious concerns with depth entering the season, struggled mightily in the second month of play.

In those four games, the Cougars started nine different linemen and none of the combinations began more than one game together. Redshirt freshman Josh Jones was the only lineman to start in all four games.

The line gave up 13 sacks and allowed opposing defenses to hurry Ward another 13 times, which was likely a factor in the quarterback’s six interceptions.

The Cougars haven’t had as many injuries to their secondary during October, but they were still without their most experienced corner, Brandon Wilson, against Navy. Wilson has had nagging injuries since the opener that appear to affect his coverage abilities.

While they have only allowed 206 yards per game through the air since the start of October, the Cougars gave up 12.68 yards per completion, which is nearly a yard more than the previous five games. They also gave up a season-high 365 yards passing to the University of Tulsa, which averages 110 fewer yards per game.

The upcoming bye week will benefit a team that has sputtered through October and still has to play two games in five days starting next Saturday.

The week off from game action should let the Cougars recover, physically and mentally, as they reach the final stretch of a season that was once filled with high hopes.

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