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Monday, February 6, 2023


Cougars fill in the blanks

After finding the end zone on the Cougars’ opening drive, running back Bryce Beall finished the next play for UH as well, taking out Pirates’ return man Michael Bowman on the ensuing kickoff.

Seeing one of the Cougars’ top players willingly contributing in a role normally reserved for backups and younger players shouldn’t come as a surprise — the Cougars have had to fill in the blanks the last few weeks.

“I think that shows how badly they want to win,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “When you have a team that has that kind of mindset, I think it speaks volumes to what kind of team we are right now.”

Even without three quarters of its starting secondary, UH (6-0, 2-0 Conference USA) played its most complete all-around game of the season in its 56-3 dismantling of ECU.

The No. 22/25 Cougars’ pass rush has never looked better this season.

The Pirates’ athleticism and size at receiver was supposed to pose problems for the Cougars, but ECU quarterbacks Dominique Davis and Rio Johnson never had a chance to get the ball to them — UH recorded nine sacks and hurried them into throwing a combined four interceptions.

The Cougars came in waves and received contributions from unexpected players like sophomore linebacker George Bamfo, who recorded three sacks in relief of Sammy Brown, who had 2.5 sacks himself.

“Sammy’s a good player,” Sumlin said. “But we’ve had some times in the past where we just left him out there and he was tired from rushing the passer. We made a decision earlier this week to get George Bamfo involved more and I think you can see it keeps Sammy a little fresher.

“George has got some real speed off the corner. Even though size-wise, he’s a little smaller, he can fly.”

Without starting corner D.J. Hayden and safeties Chevy Bennett and Colton Valencia, the secondary was again stretched thin. But the unit received strong performances from understudies Nick Saenz, Kent Brooks and Thomas Bates.

“Those guys know they didn’t have any backups,” Sumlin said. “We were a little worried when Thomas got nicked up and Jeffery Lewis was going out there — that was the last guy we had as a corner without taking a redshirt off of somebody.”

The lack of defensive backs even allowed one of the Cougars’ linebackers to masquerade as their nickleback at times.

“I told the defensive coordinator, coach Stew, that I like covering,” junior linebacker Phillip Steward said.

“He put me out there on an island today and I showed him I can do a little covering.”

Steward picked off two passes and also recorded four tackles, one for a loss.

Rest is the recipe for success

Next week’s bye couldn’t come at a more convenient time for the Cougars.

“I think this gives you some momentum into the bye week to say, ‘Let’s get these guys back. Let’s continue to work,’ because we have a lot out there in front of us,” Sumlin said.

“I think our team understands it. I think the unselfishness of everyone speaks to that. As a coach that’s maybe one of the best things that you could see, they’re willing to do anything that they can to help our team win.”

In addition to Hayden, Bennett and Valencia, the bye will benefit wide receiver Tyron Carrier, who has fought through an ankle injury this season among other bumps and bruises.

“He’s limping around,” Sumlin said. “Everybody can see he’s not 100 percent. He’s been battling through that ankle injury. He has a deal that happened early in the year with his arm losing feeling. He’s been battling through that. We got him the ball early, just trying to get him some confidence, get him going and I was happy to see him get loose a couple of times and take some hits and hang onto the ball.

“Like I said, bye week couldn’t come for guys like him quick enough. It’s a week where we can get that thing healed up. For what we want to accomplish, we have to get our guys healthy.”

Edwards asserts himself

As if the Cougars didn’t already have enough scoring weapons, receiver Patrick Edwards re-emerged as a threat on special teams with a 54-yard punt return.

Last season, Edwards returned 15 punts for 231 yards and a score, but has struggled with holding onto the ball on returns and has only gained 12 yards on five returns this year.

“It felt good,” he said. “It was just me keeping my eye on the ball and seeing it all the way into my hands.

“Prior to me catching, it was just me taking my eyes off of the ball.”

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