Half Full: Three positives emerge from Houston’s fourth loss
Houston’s hopes of a three-game win streak heading into the season’s final week eroded Saturday, when the Tulane Green Wave crashed over the Cougars on the way to a 20-17 victory.
Entering the game after the bye week, expectations were high for Cougars who had extra time to prepare for Tulane’s stout rushing attack. The loss doesn’t carry significant implications from a postseason play standpoint for Houston, yet it does further cast a shadow of doubt on the team who has now lost road games to each of the AAC West Division’s bottom two teams.
To help with the pain of this fact, here’s three positives that can be drawn from the Cougars’ fourth loss of the season.
King continues improvement
Sophomore D’Eriq King once again showed flashes of his predecessor, Greg Ward Jr., in Saturday’s loss to Tulane.
King dashed his way to a 33-yard TD score as time expired in the third quarter, then led his team on a 12-play 92-yard scoring drive that put the Cougars on top in the latter stages of the fourth. Considering Tulane was still just his second career start at QB, the sophomore has displayed poise and tenacity in high-pressure situations at signal-caller.
Overall, King accumulated 141 rushing yards on just 10 attempts including two rushing scores against the Green Wave. Although efficient through the air — completing 18 of 26 passes — King failed to find the end zone and threw his first career interception over the weekend.
Ironically, the Cougars are 4-0 in games that King records at least one passing touchdown.
Regardless of how the 2017 season turns out, rest assured the Cougars’ up-and-coming QB is gaining valuable experience that will pay dividends next year and maybe beyond.
Awakening the sleeping giant
Houston’s wide receiver corp. is filled with short-yardage specialists who offer reliability at the cost of big play potential.
Senior receivers Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar garner the lion’s — or Cougars’ — share of pass targets, and together the pair have reeled in 65 and 59 receptions respectively. Bonner, whose 100-yard performance Saturday marked the fourth time this season the senior has reached the century mark in the category, is averaging 11.6 yards per catch, while Dunbar is hauling in 12.5 yards per game.
For sophomore receiver Courtney Lark, this is not the case.
Despite having just nine catches on the season, Lark has tallied a remarkable 205-yards — a 22.8-yard per game average — including two scores. The Houston native saw only limited action as a freshman last season, but has posed a constant deep threat when inserted into plays in 2017.
At 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, expect Lark to continue to be implemented into the Cougars’ passing game to open opportunities for King downfield. If both players can continue their upward trajectory, which all signs point to them being able to do, the King-Lark tandem could potentially be a valuable weapon down the stretch of this season and into next year.
Defense solid up front
Regardless of the outcome, Houston’s defensive linemen and linebackers fared well considering what they were faced with.
Tulane entered Saturday as a Top-20 team rushing the football, but were limited to just 166 yards rushing on 3.5 yards per rush. Houston’s defense surrendered 13-points in the first half — three of which came after a Cougars’ offensive turnover — but a broken coverage in the fourth quarter resulted in a 64-yard TD pass from Tulane QB Jonathan Banks.
Star defensive tackle Ed Oliver was impressive, yet human, with a sack and tackle for loss against Tulane.
Career-best days from defensive linemen Jerard Carter and Leroy Godfrey saw the pair combine for six tackles for loss in addition to a sack added by the former.
The Cougars will need a similar effort when they take on the triple-option oriented Navy Midshipmen on Friday morning. Overall, the front seven’s performance should provide hope entering the contest, especially considering Navy’s pass attack is not like that of the Green Wave.
Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday.