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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

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The battle for the best in C-USA West


For the second consecutive year, Houston will battle Tulsa for the top spot in the Conference-USA West Division when the Cougars face the Golden Hurricane on Saturday at Skelly Stadium.

Last year, the Cougars pulled out a homecoming victory at Robertson Stadium and earned the right to play in the C-USA Championship game.

Houston (6-3, 5-1 C-USA) battled back from a 10-7 deficit at the start of the second quarter. The Cougars rallied and finished the first half 17-10.

The exciting homecoming game ended with the Cougars scoring 20 points in the last two quarters to beat the Golden Hurricane 27-10.

Houston head coach Art Briles anticipates that this year’s matchup between the teams will be equally intense.

"That’s the way it ought to be when you’ve got two teams playing for the west championship," Briles said. "These are not games that are given. You earn them. We all started out 0-0… and we’ve earned this opportunity to represent the west again, so I’m proud of our team for putting us in this position."

Returning from last year’s showdown is Tulsa senior quarterback Paul Smith, who threw three touchdowns and ran for another two in Tulsa’s win against Tulane Saturday.

He had 319 yards on 18-of-27 passing against Tulane, giving him more than 3,000 passing yards for the season.

"Paul’s a four-year starter, (he’s) been around awhile. They’ve been good, really, every year he’s been there," Briles said. "They’re a good football team that’s playing well right now."

Tulsa has won two games in a row and has a record of 6-3, identical to Houston, but the Cougar defense is ready to take on the offensive production of Smith and the Golden Hurricane.

"Our focus is to stop the running game and pressure the pass, which is really our job every game," senior nose tackle Tate Stewart said.

Houston allowed 460 yards against SMU, but junior inside linebacker Cody Lubojasky said the Cougars want to lower that number Saturday.

"We’re just going to eliminate mistakes we made the past week and just execute," Lubojasky said. "You’ve got to have pressure overall. It’s a whole defensive thing, so I think we can fix that over the next few days and just be ready for Tulsa."

The Cougars are also coming off a Sunday game, which gives them one less day to rest than usual, but they’re not worried.

"Six-day turnaround is always tough, but we’re an in-shape football team," Stewart said. "Coach (Larry) Jackson probably has us in the best shape in the nation, so six day turnaround isn’t going to be a big deal for us."

Houston, which has won its last four games, is capitalizing on the momentum gained by last week’s victory.

"It’s like a snowball effect; win after win you start to build more confidence, and it’s hard to stop that," Lubojasky said. "Going into the later part of the season, it’s a big deal going into a tough game like Tulsa (and the) conference championship."


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