No. 24 UH caps off perfect conference record with victory over Memphis
For only the second time in program history, Houston completed a perfect season in conference play, defeating Memphis 31-13 on Friday night at TDECU Stadium to finish the year at 8-0 in the American Athletic Conference.
As the first quarter clock hit 12:02, UH suffered a major blow as junior linebacker Donavan Mutin suffered what appeared to be a head or neck injury. Mutin was down on the field for 10 minutes before being wheeled off on a stretcher and taken to the local hospital where he was alert and talking per a team spokesman.
The first quarter was scoreless despite both UH and Memphis putting together long drives that got into opposing territory.
Seconds into the second quarter sophomore Ja’Kori Morgan blocked a punt that was recovered at the Memphis 36-yard line by junior linebacker Elijah Gooden to put the Cougars in prime field position.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, freshman running back Alton McCaskill took a handoff, made a man miss and went up the middle untouched for 36-yards for his 15th rushing touchdown of the season.
McCaskill suffered an injury late in the second quarter and did not return.
The Cougars’ next possession ended with another touchdown as the UH offense put together an 11-play, 93-yard drive that culminated in a 19-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Clayton Tune to sophomore receiver Nathaniel Dell.
After a Memphis field goal, the UH offense put together its string consecutive scoring drive capped off by a 20-yard scramble to the corner of the end zone by Tune to put the Cougars up 21-3 heading into the half.
On the opening drive of the second half, Marcus Jones showed why he is college football’s most versatile player. With Memphis deep in UH territory, the senior cornerback made a leaping one-handed interception.
This was the fourth consecutive game that Jones recorded an interception. Jones picked off Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan a second time with just seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Aided by a questionable targeting call by safety senior Gleson Sprewell on fourth down, Memphis finally found the end zone on its next drive. Henigan found running back Asa Martin for a 5-yard score.
Things continued to get chippy as the Cougars were tagged for late hit and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on a punt to set Memphis up with good field position.
The Tigers converted off the Cougars’ mistakes, as kicker David Kemp connected from 22 yards out to make it a one-possession game early into the fourth quarter.
UH responded with a long drive of its own that appeared as if it would end in six points. But after Dell dropped a potential touchdown, Tune forced a ball to the corner of the end zone on the next play and was picked off for the second time on the night.
Memphis had a couple of opportunities to tie the game but the UH defense held strong, forcing a pair of three-and-outs to keep an eight point lead.
Senior kicker Dalton Witherspoon made it a two-possession game with just over three minutes left in regulation, splitting the uprights from 34 yards out.
Junior running back Ta’Zhawn Henry put the nail in the coffin, scoring on a 4-yard touchdown rush to cap off a 31-13 UH victory.
With the victory, UH reached 10 wins for the first time since the 2015 season. It also snapped a five-game losing streak to Memphis.