Defense carries team to victory in season opener
The Cougars rode their stout defense to a 19-16 victory Saturday night against the Arizona Wildcats. This marked their seventh consecutive win against Power Five opponents.
It took a hearty effort from Houston’s defense to come away with a win. This was highlighted by a gargantuan game from All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver, whose performance included 11 tackles, a blocked kick and even a forced fumble, earning him AAC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
“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.”
After being named one of the Cougars’ four team captains, safety Garrett Davis posted one of the most impressive stat lines of his collegiate career. The defensive back did everything and more to help slow the physical Arizona rushing attack by recording 11 tackles to go along with a clutch fourth quarter interception to help seal the victory.
Houston’s defense even shouldered some of the scoring responsibility with a safety early in the third quarter. It was the defining moment in a game where both teams struggled to gain traction offensively.
The dominating defensive performance overshadowed the offense, which looked decent but not flashy in the season opener. Junior transfer Kyle Allen didn’t play his best game, but he showed flashes of his potential.
Despite throwing two interceptions, Allen was able to connect with senior receiver Linell Bonner for his only touchdown of the night.
Bonner had a team-high nine receptions with 59 yards receiving to go along with the touchdown. Add to that senior receiver Steven Dunbar’s healthy production with more than 70 yards receiving for the game.
Among the bright spots on offense was the emergence of senior running back Dillon Birden, who was also named one of the team captains. He earned that title on Saturday night by averaging 5.9 yards on 12 carries that saw him rush for more than 80 yards. Birden came away from Saturday’s game with Houston’s lone rushing touchdown.
Houston may have emerged with a victory, but they will need to capitalize on their offensive opportunities if they wish to remain undefeated.
“You can’t survive college football with field goals and missed opportunities,” Applewhite said. “It’s a killer. We have to find a way to get in the end zone.”
Houston’s next match on Saturday against the Rice Owls for the much-anticipated Bayou Bucket. The game will serve as Houston’s home opener with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m.