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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Commentary

Cougars’ offensive struggles continue despite win


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Despite early preseason hype, redshirt sophomore running back Duke Catalon has struggled with injuries and consistency throughout the year. | Justin Cross/The Cougar

There was hope that the bye week would make the Cougars more like the team that started the year rather than the one that appeared fatigued and stumbled through October.

At the start of the game, Tulane University Green Wave used a squib kick to try to catch the Cougars off guard, a tactic that they used at every opportunity during the game despite having only a 20-percent success rate.

Nimble Cardinals

The Green Wave tried the squib five times and recovered the ball just once. The deepest the Cougars started a drive after a kick was at their own 34-yard line. They also began a drive after a Green Wave kickoff in Tulane territory twice and another on their own 49-yard line.

Although each Tulane kickoff resulted in good field position, the Cougars were unable to capitalize. They averaged zero yards on all four drives after the kickoff with their longest drive going just four yards on the opening kickoff.

UH was still able to put up 30 points on the board, though, despite stalling on 11 drives. The point total was the second-lowest of the season behind the 16 they scored on Southern Methodist University in a lopsided defeat.

The Cougars scored all but two points in the first half. They were also ineffective in the second when they had to rely on senior quarterback Kyle Postma as the lead under center.

Starting senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. left before the end of the first half with a shoulder injury, but returned at the beginning of the fourth when Postma was sacked hard.

After the game, head coach Tom Herman said that Ward was injured when he spiked the ball to stop the clock. Since Ward did not hear a whistle to call the play dead, he jumped on the ball because he thought it was considered live and then had someone fall on him.

The Cougars’ October woes could carry into November as Ward’s status remains unclear. UH is also entering a short week with a Thursday game against the University of Louisville Cardinals, one of the nation’s top teams.

The Cougars will have to rely on their ground game, which has been lackluster throughout the season. Even if Ward suits up against the Cardinals, he’ll likely play at less than 100 percent and had trouble connecting on longer throws even before the injury.

Ward is the Cougars’ leading rusher, but is only averaging three yards per carry. It’ll be hard for Ward to make plays with his legs if he’s not at full health, meaning that the running backs will have to step up.

This may be tough for a group that has under-performed this year.

Beware the opponent’s defense

While Ward deals with his injuries, redshirt sophomore running back Duke Catalon has yet to live up to the preseason hype. Catalon gained a measly 50 yards on 20 carries against Tulane, and 70 percent of his yards came on just two carries.

During the game, Catalon rushed for either no yards or a loss on eight of his carries. This season, Catalon is averaging a subpar 68.5 yards per game.

The Green Wave is 50th in the country versus the run, so the Cougars should have been able to move the ball more effectively.

Junior Dillon Birden took over during Catalon’s absence, but has faired only slightly better. Birden has managed to find the end zone six times this season, which leads all runners not named Ward.

Birden was only given three carries against the Green Wave even as Catalon struggled against Tulane’s defense.

Now, UH has to play against a Louisville defense that is sixth in the nation versus the run and that has only given up three rushing touchdowns in 10 games, which is how the Cougars get the majority of their points.

It is up to offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to get creative with his run packages for the Cougars to beat, or at least stay within the Cardinals’ striking distance.

The way the Cougars have been playing mediocre football against average teams isn’t going to cut it when they take the field Thursday.

Houston has a shot at pulling off a major upset if they can come together and play like they did in the opening month. The talent is still there.

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