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Sunday, May 28, 2023


UH FOOTBALL: Cougars need win to stay in driver’s seat of C-USA West

The No. 13 Cougars control their destiny in the Conference USA West Division entering Saturday’s matchup with Tulsa. A loss at H.A. Chapman Stadium would put an end to that.

With four teams within one game of each other in the West Division standings, UH may not be able to win C-USA if it suffers another setback. For head coach Kevin Sumlin, this means his team must be primed for another in-conference clash at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

‘What I’ve learned in my time here is that our toughest opponents have been in the conference because we know each other so well,’ Sumlin said. ‘There is not a lot of overlooking. We recognize each other, and we see each other’s tape all of the time. We have to prepare this week like we have all year, and go on the road and win.’

The Golden Hurricane is riding a three-game losing streak after dropping decisions to No. 5 Boise State, UTEP and SMU. UH (7-1, 3-1 C-USA) has won four straight, including last Saturday’s 50-43 victory over Southern Miss.

These squads appear to be headed in different directions, but Sumlin believes Tulsa has more than enough talent to top the Cougars.

‘They still play hard, and they still have good players,’ Sumlin said. ‘They caught a couple bad breaks. For whatever reason, they have not been able to get over the hump. They’ve been close and just haven’t made it.

‘Their defense is still flying around. They still have a couple of different schemes.’

After lighting up C-USA’s No. 1 defense for 750 total yards last week, UH’s offense is showing no signs of slowing down. But it will face a Golden Hurricane defense that ranks second in the conference in total defense (343.9 yards per game) and points allowed (20.5 points per game).

Quarterback Case Keenum has said he expects to perform well against any defense he faces. It’s hard to question such a confident attitude when it comes from the nation’s leader in passing yards (3,293), touchdowns (25) and completions (285).

‘We expect to go out there and be successful,’ Keenum said. ‘We expect to go out there and throw and catch and get upfield. We expect to get those first downs and turn those into touchdowns.’

Tulsa’s defense allowed 354 passing yards in a 27-13 loss to SMU Saturday. In his first career start, SMU quarterback Kyle Padron connected with four receivers at least four times each.

Keenum will attempt to earn similar success by creatively spreading the ball to his arsenal of wide receivers and running backs. He said the nation’s No. 1 offense would not be so powerful if it didn’t maintain its originality.

‘Teams evolve throughout the year. You can’t do the same things every week because other teams will watch your film,’ Keenum said. ‘People prepare for those plays that you want to run. You have to evolve and figure out new ways to do things.’

The Cougars’ defense will attempt to improve upon its poor performance against Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles ripped UH for 608 total yards, with 248 coming on the ground. The defense also failed to force a turnover for the first time since UH’s 58-41 loss at UTEP on Oct. 3.

Linebacker Marcus McGraw said he expects the defense to play with more aggression against Tulsa, which is allowing 3.9 sacks per game.

‘I’m sure we are going to attack them a little more and try to make some plays,’ McGraw said.

The Golden Hurricane and UH are the only teams to represent the West Division in the C-USA championship game’s four-year history. McGraw believes this struggle for power has helped form a rivalry between the schools.

‘I know we have some rivalry with them. Last year, we beat them (in Houston), and the year before they beat us (in Tulsa),’ McGraw said. ‘We are going to try to change the pattern this year (by earning) a win up there. We know we are going to get a battle this Saturday.’

With only four games left on their schedule, the Cougars will face must-win situations for the rest of the season. Safety Tim Mercer recognizes the rising pressure, but said the team can focus only on its next opponent.

‘Every game is getting more and more important. Every time we win, it’s also getting more important,’ Mercer said. ‘We know (opponents) are going to give us their best shot. The only thing we can look at is this Saturday.’

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