Houston preps for UTEP match

The Cougars hope the last home game of the regular season will be similar to the one played when beginning the year there.

It’s safe say Houston (6-4, 5-1 Conference USA) has recovered from the 1-3 start it endured after first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin made his UH debut with a 55-3 win over Southern on Aug. 30.

Houston has won its last two games by a combined 68 points, including Saturday’s 70-30 upset of then-No. 25 Tulsa.

"Any time you score 70 points, that’s a team win. That’s not just the offense. It’s also the special teams and the defense getting us the ball back," Sumlin said.

The win moved Houston into a three-way tie for first place in the C-USA Western division, but Sumlin said he and his team are looking to Houston’s game against Texas-El Paso on Saturday.

"It was a good win for us, but the truth of it is, it was a West division win we really needed to have. We are 2-0 now in this short four-game season," Sumlin said.

The Cougars are beginning to find their rhythm as a team and seem to have left slow starts and sloppy ball handling behind.

"We have a new coaching staff this year. We have a lot of young players. It’s like anything; it takes time for everybody to come together," senior tight end Tate Stewart said. "We’re finally… playing at a high level, and we’ve got to keep doing that."

Sumlin sees the same type of progress in the Miners.

"When you look at UTEP, you see a team that’s in a very similar situation as us. I see a team that has really improved. They are a much different football team than they were in the first three games of the year," he said.

UTEP dropped its first three games of the season but is 5-2 since then, in part because of the play of sophomore quarterback Trevor Vittatoe.

"Trevor Vittatoe is a good player. He’s an excellent thrower and can move around. Last week… he had a season-high performance, throwing for 410 yards," Sumlin said.

One of Vittatoe’s favorite targets is sophomore wide receiver Kris Adams, who leads the Miners with 731 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches this season.

"Kris Adams is averaging 21 yards per catch. They really spread it around and throw the ball over the field," Sumlin said.

Houston was able to pull off the upset against Tulsa because the defense held the Golden Hurricane well under its season average of 49.8 points a game. Cougar sophomore cornerback Loyce Means had a career-high three interceptions against Tulsa, but UTEP is no stranger to winning the defensive battle. The Miners have given up six interceptions this season while picking off their opponents 14 times.

"Their biggest improvement has been on defense. They have seven interceptions over the last two weeks," Sumlin said.

Houston’s 20 seniors will be honored before the game in the annual "Senior Day" ceremony, which senior offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer said would give him an extra edge against the Miners.

"It makes (me) a little bit more motivated, because you don’t want to lose your last game, especially at home," he said.

Regardless of any championship or bowl game implications Houston’s win against Tulsa may have had, Sumlin’s only focus is on continuing Houston’s two-game win streak.

"(Beating Tulsa on) Saturday was big, but this week is bigger because of what’s at stake," he said.

The Cougars face off against the Miners at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Robertson Stadium. Admission to the game is free with a valid CougarOne card.

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