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Monday, September 25, 2023


UH defense downs Bulldogs

By Matt Miller

STARKVILLE, Miss. – The Cougars aren’t known for playing great defense, but it was their defense that did most of the work in the second half of UH’s 31-24 victory Saturday.

The Cougars (4-1, 1-0 Conference USA) turned two fourth-quarter turnovers by the Bulldogs into 14 points to earn their third victory over a BCS school this season. The win also gives UH a chance to enter the top 25 again and helped the defense gain redemption after they gave up 58 points in El Paso one week ago.

Mississippi State (2-4, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) committed four turnovers in all, but UH was only able to turn’ two into points.’ ‘

That was all UH’ needed.

The Cougars evened the contest at 17 on their first possession of the second half, as Ben Bell nailed a 23-yard field with 6:39 left in the third quarter. The 12-play drive stalled at the Bulldogs’ 6 after wide receiver Patrick Edwards dropped a sure touchdown on third-and-goal.

Mississippi State continued to have success on the ground on its next possession, but defensive end Tyrell Graham pounced on a fumble on a bad exchange between quarterback Tyson Lee and running back Christian Ducre with 4:17 remaining in the third quarter.

The Cougars could not take advantage, however, as quarterback Case Keenum threw his second interception of the day to linebacker Jamar Chaney with 2:27 left in the third stanza.

The Bulldogs were looking to regain the lead early in the fourth quarter, but a pass from Lee was intercepted by cornerback Brandon Brinkley inside the UH 5-yard line with 9:34 remaining in the game.

The Cougars capitalized by going 78 yards in 10 plays to take a 24-17 lead with 6:23 left to play. Keenum’s 3-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver James Cleveland capped the drive and silenced the homecoming crowd of 48,019 at Davis-Wade Stadium.

Mississippi State appeared to have a chance to tie the game when running back Anthony Dixon scampered in the end zone with a little more than 5:00 remaining, but the touchdown was called back because of a holding penalty on Arnil Stallworth.

UH’s potent offense took advantage again, as Keenum connected with running back Charles Sims on a 58 yard reception before hooking up with wide receiver Tyron Carrier for an 18-yard score that gave UH a 31-17 lead with 4:14 to play.

Dixon gave the Bulldogs some hope when he rushed for a 3-yard score to cut UH’s lead to 31-24 with 1:22 remaining in the game, but with only one timeout remaining they were forced to attempt an onside kick.

The Cougars were ready, as wide receiver Chaz Rodriguez recovered the kickoff to give UH its first victory over a SEC team since UH’s 28-16 win in Starkville, Miss. in 2005.
Like a heavyweight fight, the Cougars and Mississippi State kept trading blows in the first half. Both offenses utilized their strengths, as UH passed for 201 yards while the Bulldogs gained 179 yard on the ground.

The Cougars took the opening kickoff to the Bulldogs’ 28, but Keenum could not connect with Cleveland on a fourth-and-6. Confusion ensued because the public address announcer said it was third down before the play began. After a brief review, the referees ruled it was fourth, not third, down and possession turned over to Mississippi State.

Luckily for UH, this mistake did not hurt, as the Bulldogs drove to the Cougars’ 41 before the drive stalled.

UH moved the ball into Mississippi State territory on its second possession, but Keenum threw an inexplicable pass right into the hands of defensive back Charles Mitchell, who took it 71 yards for a pick six. After Derek DePasquale’s extra point, the Bulldogs held a 7-0 lead with 5:07 to go in the opening quarter.

The Cougars quickly bounced back, driving 62 yards in only seven plays to even the score at 7. Although Keenum’s 5-yard touchdown toss to Cleveland put six points on the board, the biggest play was Keenum’s 37-yard pass to Rodriguez on a third-and-5 from UH’s 43.

Mississippi State threatened to regain the lead on its next possession before Brinkley intercepted a pass from Lee on a third-and-10 inside the Cougars’ 20.

The Bulldogs ran right through the Cougars on their next possession, needing only four rushes to take a 14-7 lead with 9:30 remaining before halftime. The drive was capped by Dixon’s 50-yard touchdown run. After bouncing off his offensive line and finding a huge hole, Dixon was finally met by three UH defenders inside the 20.

But he wasn’t done.

The 235-pound senior carried three Cougars to the goal line, causing the raucous crowd to explode.

UH’s offense promptly silenced the Bulldog faithful, needing only six plays and 1:20 to tie the game at 14. Keenum found Carrier wide-open in the right side of the end zone from 10 yard out to cap the drive with 8:03 remaining in the second quarter.

DePasquale capped the first-half scoring when he connected on a 34-yard field goal to give Mississippi State a 17-14 lead with 3:30 left before the break.

The Cougars were about to counter with a field goal of their own, but Mannisto’s 29-yard attempt was blocked by linebacker K.J. Wright with 59 seconds remaining in the first half.

The Bulldogs continued to utilize their ground game on the ensuing possession, but simply did not have enough time, as DePasquale missed wide right on a 51-yard field-goal attempt as time expired.

The two missed field goals were a sign of what was to come, as neither offense could match their first-half production in the final 30 minutes.

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