Game day takeaways: Allen, receivers shine against Rice
The coveted Bayou Bucket trophy remains at the University of Houston for the foreseeable future after the Cougars downed their crosstown rival Rice in convincing fashion Saturday night. Exerting control of the game from the opening whistle, the team put together a performance that alleviates concerns that may have arose following the team’s narrow victory in week one.
Houston dominated Rice en route to a 38-3 victory by limiting mistakes on offense and creating havoc on the defense. The Cougars exploited Rice’s defense for 354 yards through the air, leaving the Owls prey to a diversified offensive attack.
Although a meaningful win in the team’s home opener, the fact is that Rice will likely be a cellar-dweller in the NCAA for the second season in a row. Even so, three takeaways can be drawn from Saturday’s 2017 Bayou Bucket Classic:
Allen bounces back
Junior quarterback Kyle Allen rebounded from his shaky debut in Arizona last week with a record-breaking performance against the Owls.
Allen flirted with perfection by completing 31 of 33 passes, which placed him in the Cougars’ record book for the highest single-game completion percentage in program history at 93.9 percent. In addition to putting his name alongside the storied QB’s of Houston’s past, Allen posted 309 passing yards and found the end zone twice.
This showing comes just a week after throwing two interceptions and nearly losing a costly red zone fumble in Tucson, Ariz. The Cougars’ starting signal-caller attributed the team’s lack of game reps as a possible reason for the contrast between his two performances.
“I don’t think there was much of a difference,” Allen said. “I think last week was our first (game), and it was a lot of other teams’ second game, and we just had to get those first-game mistakes out of the way. I think tonight we came together as a unit and gelled a little bit more, just like we will every game. It was a lot cleaner in that respect.”
Look for Allen to take another step forward this weekend when the offensive-minded Texas Tech Red Raiders visit TDECU Stadium.
Fast-paced — or “hurry up” — offenses dominate the college football landscape and have made shutting out an opponent an increasingly rare feat, but thanks to an energized defensive unit, the Cougars were just minutes away from blanking their rival Saturday.
“I’m very proud, because every time we walk out on the field, I can feel the edge that we take the field with,” said senior linebacker Matt Adams. “We were ready to get off three-and-out every time. Even though the score was 38-0, we came out there like it was 0-0 and were trying to get off the field for the offense to get back on.”
Unfortunately for Houston, a 31-yard field goal with just under three minutes left in regulation ended what could have been the team’s first shutout victory since a 42-0 trouncing of the Lamar Cardinals on Sept. 10, 2016.
Regardless, relentless efforts by multiple defensive players set the tone for the evening.
Adams earned team Defensive Player of the Game honors by making 11 tackles — two for a loss of yards — and recording a pass deflection and fumble recovery.
Standout sophomore Ed Oliver continued his tear through the collegiate ranks with a tackle for loss and his second consecutive game with a forced fumble.
Bonner, receivers continue ascent
Senior wide receiver Linell Bonner burst onto the scene in last year’s season opener upset against the Oklahoma Sooners. Few can forget No. 15 tight-roping the sideline, somehow keeping a foot inbounds and making the catch that served as the first of many highlight reel grabs for Bonner in 2016.
Largely overlooked by many prior to that catch, Bonner went on to become the Cougars’ top receiver a year ago. The then-junior reeled in 98 passes for 1,118 yards and three TD’s including a 17-reception, 235-yard effort against Memphis on Nov. 25, 2016.
Just two games in, Bonner’s upward trend looks as if it will continue.
The senior playmaker has already made 19 receptions for 191 yards and a score in the team’s first two games.
In addition to Bonner, senior wide receivers Steven Dunbar and John Leday are also proving to be viable targets for Allen in the passing game. With 23 receptions between Dunbar and Leday, the trio of senior receivers effectively accounts for 42 of the team’s 59 catches in 2017.
Bonner is excited about the depth that Cougars’ receivers bring to the field.
“This is the most experienced receiving core we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said. “I think this is the best and deepest wide receiving core we’ve had. Things are going to be pretty good and flashy this year.”