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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Football

UH set for heavyweight battle against No. 19 SMU


Senior linebacker Deontay Anderson scooped up one of three forced fumbles in UH football's win over ECU. | Steven Paultanis/The Cougar

Senior linebacker Deontay Anderson scooped up one of three forced fumbles in UH football’s win over ECU. | Steven Paultanis/The Cougar

For the first time in the Dana Holgorsen era, Houston will play in a meaningful game as the calendar nears the turn to November.

“It’s the way it should be,” Holgorsen said. “It hasn’t happened since I’ve been here.”

The Cougars have won six games in a row and sit at 4-0 in American Athletic Conference play, joining Cincinnati and SMU as the only remaining undefeated teams in conference play.

But come Saturday night and at least one of those teams will no longer be undefeated in AAC play as UH hosts No. 19 SMU in primetime.

With as much as there is at stake Saturday night at TDECU Stadium, Holgorsen knows his team must clean some things up if they are going to pull off the upset and hand the Mustangs their first loss of the season.

Urgency to be better offensively

The UH offense never got into any type of rhythm against East Carolina, being held to 256 total yards including only being able to muster up five yards of offense in the third quarter.

The offensive struggles started in the trenches, as the ECU defensive line wore out the UH offensive line.

UH quarterback Clayton Tune was under heavy pressure all night, as the Cougars’ offensive line allowed a season-high five sacks.

Besides a few big runs, the UH rushing attack was non-existent as the Cougars’ running backs averaged just 2.4 yards per carry.

“We got to figure some things out on offense,” Holgorsen said after the game. “It was not good.”

With a high-powered SMU offense that has not been held under 30 points all season, averaging 42.7 points per game, coming to town, Holgorsen knows his offense has to be able to put points on the board if they are going to have any shot at knocking off the Mustangs.

“How we played offensively (against East Carolina) is not good enough,” Holgorsen said. “If we play like that against SMU, we’re going to have some problems because you know these guys can score.”

Big test for UH defense

The improvement of the UH defense has been a welcome surprise for the Cougars.

UH leads the nation in third down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 23.4 percent of the time, and also ranks second in sacks per game, averaging 4.14 a contest.

But the Cougars will have their toughest challenge yet come Saturday night, trying to keep the high-powered Mustangs offense in check.

SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai has been one of the nation’s premier passers. Mordecai has thrown for 2,320 yards, which ranks eighth in the nation, completed 71.1 percent of his passes, which is sixth-best in the country, and thrown an FBS leading 29 touchdowns.

Surrounding Mordecai is a group of high talented skilled players. From the running back duo of Tre Siggers and Ulysses Bentley IV to the receiving core of Danny Gray, Rashee Rice, Reggie Roberson Jr. and Grant Calcaterra, SMU has the weapons to make opposing defenses pay whenever they make a mistake.

“I think this is by far the best team that we’ve played as a whole,” said UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk. “ From the offensive line to the quarterback, two really good running backs and then a stable of receivers, they’re all explosive. …They have Sunday players at a lot of positions.”

Chance for a marquee win

You have to go back to Oct. 28, 2017 to find the last time UH beat a ranked opponent.

The Cougars are 0-8 under Holgorsen against ranked opponents but have a chance to change that against 19th ranked SMU.

With the chance to knock off an undefeated, nationally ranked program at home, there is a little extra excitement and energy flowing through the UH locker room.

“SMU-Houston is a little different,” Holgorsen said. “Obviously Dallas-Houston. In-state. One of the few rivals we have left.”

Junior defensive lineman Derek Parish echoed his head coach, needing few words to describe how the Cougars feel about SMU.

“Houston versus Dallas,” Parish said. “We don’t like Dallas. We’re Houston.”

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