Cougars win first game on the road against Arizona
TUCSON, Ariz. — The Cougars showed they could still win despite multiple changes in the coaching staff and an unusual start to their season as they routed the Arizona Wildcats by a score of 19-16.
The Cougars struggled early against Arizona, but where able to overcome their offensive struggles to give Major Applewhite his first win as head coach. With help from their second string running back, Dillon Birden, and a promising start from Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen, the Cougars handed the Wildcats their first loss of the season.
“It was a great win for our program, a great win for our players and a great win for our city,” said Applewhite. It’s our first game so obviously I think there are a lot of things that we can go back and improve on. I’m proud of our players because they have been through a lot.”
Arizona won the toss and deferred to the second half, giving Houston the ball to start the game. Applewhite held out on identifying the starting quarterback before the game, but as expected Kyle Allen was under center.
Despite winning the starting job, Kyle Allen struggled to find a rhythm early on. The Cougars first drive lasted just 1:56 and had a net gain of minus 2 yards. Meanwhile Arizona struggled to get the ball moving to start the game as well. Houston got the ball back with 12 minutes left in the first quarter and managed to kick a 25-yard field goal to put the Cougars up 3-0.
Arizona managed to tie the Cougars by the end of the first quarter. They managed to get their running game going by the end of the quarter.
Allen had just 52 yards in the first quarter but ended the first half with 185 yards and a touchdown to put the Cougars up by seven going into halftime.
Defense to the rescue
Meanwhile the defense was making plays all over the field in the first half to help keep the Arizona offense at bay. Ed Oliver and Garrett Davis combined for 11 tackles in the first half and continued to make their presence known against the Arizona offense that couldn’t seem to catch up to the Houston defense.
“We’re always the underdog and nobody thinks we can do it,” Oliver said. “We respond, and we play hard, that’s what we do. From Matt Adams to Garrett Davis, all of those guys are big time ballers and big time playmakers. I just love playing with the guys.”
The Cougars didn’t start the second half well when QB Kyle Allen threw an early interception in the third quarter. Despite the early mistake, the defense was able to salvage him by giving the Wildcats a safety and getting the ball back.
“Obviously you don’t want an interception there, you want a better ball there,” said Allen. “It was awesome to see our defense come out in a backed up situation in that first play and really hit them in the mouth.
Second string running back Dillon Birden cemented himself as a presence in the offense with 14 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown. When given the opportunity, Birden showed the same speed and vision he had in high school every time he got the ball in his hands. Applewhite said he was happy to give Birden the ball as many times as he could.
“Trust goes both ways, I ask these guys to trust me and I, in turn have to trust them,” said Applewhite. “He has done nothing but show me that he is trustworthy.”
Seeing it through
The fourth quarter saw Kyle Allen throw another interception, but the Cougars managed to fend off the Wildcats enough to come home with the victory. Near the end of the game Arizona made it interesting and pulled within three points with a pair of field goals. Despite their efforts, they ultimately came up short because of the stellar play of the defense, especially Davis who ended the game with an interception and 11 total tackles.
Ultimately the team came home with a tough fought victory that almost slipped out of their hands in the fourth quarter.
“Personally, I am excited because I like to win at anything,” said Applewhite. I’m happy, nothing more, nothing real deep. Just happy and proud of our guys.”