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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Football

Conference games to watch during Cougars’ bye week


800px-ha-chapman-stadium-tulsa

Chapman Stadium will be the site of East Carolina versus Tulsa, a game with implications for UH this weekend. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Even though the football team is enjoying some rest during their bye week this weekend, it doesn’t mean the Cougars can’t benefit from other American Athletic Conference matchups that are taking place.

The Cougars, now in third place in the West Division, will need some help in order to gain ground on the University of Tulsa and the Naval Academy.

Here are three of the top games to watch from around the conference this weekend whether the results can benefit the Cougars.

Temple versus UConn

The Temple University Owls enter the Friday night matchup as a heavy favorite over the University of Connecticut.

The Owls have put together another impressive season that solidifies them as a Group of Five Conference power. Now 4-1 in the East Division, the Owls can catapult to first place with the University of South Florida having the week off.

UConn comes into the game having lost three games in a row and nothing going their way. Struggling to score points, the Huskies are averaging just 18.3 points per game — a mark that will not get the job done with the amount of high-flying offenses around the NCAA.

A bright spot for the Huskies has been wide receiver Noel Thomas, who is among the nation’s leaders in multiple receiving categories. Thomas has failed to surpass the century mark in receiving yards in just two games this season and has accumulated 83 catches for 1,058 yards thus far.

Despite Thomas’ great play, Temple should have no problem scoring on the UConn defense and putting them away early. The Owls must be careful as playing late season games in UConn has been a tough task for team’s over the last few seasons.

Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday night.

Navy versus Notre Dame

Although this matchup features just one team from the conference (Navy), it is, historically, a great matchup and will likely be again this season.

Notre Dame has struggled week in and week out in 2016 and could salvage some of their season with a win against Navy. Quarterback DeShone Kizer is expected to be one of the top QB’s taken in the 2017 NFL draft and is fun to watch despite his team’s shortcomings this year.

The Fighting Irish are averaging 444 yards per game, but their defense has been hard-pressed to stop anyone en route to allowing 436.1 yards to opposing offenses.

Navy has dominated on offense despite running the uncanny and time-consuming triple-option offense. The Midshipmen are coming off of a 52-45 loss to USF where they had no trouble scoring the ball.

Navy proved they can play with anyone in the country when they toppled the No. 6 Cougars 46-40 on Oct. 8.

The Fighting Irish have defended the run well this season, allowing just 160.1 rushing yards per game. They will need to do so again against the run-heavy Navy offense that accumulates 250.4 rush yards per game.

However, history will show that a long afternoon is in order if a team is unprepared for Navy’s intricate triple-option offense.

The matchup has an early kickoff Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

East Carolina versus Tulsa

This is the matchup with the most at stake for the Cougars.

Tulsa narrowly sits in second place in the conference’s West with a record of 3-1 and the Cougars close behind at 4-2.

To remain competitive in the conference division race, UH will need the Golden Hurricane to suffer another loss at some point — although it does not necessarily have to be this week.

The Golden Hurricane are quietly a dominant team in the NCAA with their two losses coming to No. 4 Ohio State University and a seven-point loss to No. 13 Houston. The team is led by running back James Flanders, who has been arguably the best back in the league over the last two months.

Last week against Memphis, Flanders exploded for 249 yards and five touchdowns in the team’s win versus the Tigers. Flanders has eight touchdowns in the last three weeks and has scored in six consecutive weeks.

East Carolina will try to incorporate standout receiver Zay Jones who currently sits third in the nation in receiving yards with 1,094. Jones caught 19 passes for 185 yards and a score in his team’s win against UConn last week, which was the team’s first win since Sept. 10.

Overall, Tulsa should have no problem getting past East Carolina, but an upset could add hope to the Cougars’ season.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday.

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