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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Football

Youthful Cougars prepare for rowdy Dowdy-Ficklin Stadium


Junior transfer Xavier Maxwell (left) and freshman Deontay Greenberry will seek to help the Cougars pick up their first win outside Houston this season. Neither have previously played at East Carolina’s Dowdy-Ficklin Stadium which is  regarded as one of the toughest venues for opposing teams in Conference USA. |  Rebekah Stearns/The Daily Cougar

Junior transfer Xavier Maxwell (left) and freshman Deontay Greenberry will seek to help the Cougars pick up their first win outside Houston this season. Neither have previously played at East Carolina’s Dowdy-Ficklin Stadium which is
regarded as one of the toughest venues for opposing teams in Conference USA. | Rebekah Stearns/The Daily Cougar

This time a year ago, freshman defensive back Adrian McDonald was quarterback for Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Okla. The dual position athlete made his first career start on Saturday, playing 80 snaps while compiling seven tackles and one interception.

“Every Thursday we have what we call Cougar Bowl, where all the guys who don’t travel and don’t play scrimmage for about 20 minutes, and he’s been (doing) a great job in the scrimmages,” said head coach Tony Levine. “We made the decision about a month ago to pull his redshirt off of him and play him and kind of ease his way on some special teams. Among other things, that’s what’s fun about college football — seeing players learn and grow and be successful.”

Getting rowdy at Dowdy-Ficklin

This week, McDonald and the Cougars head out of Houston for just the third time all season to face East Carolina University at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. To Levine, who has spent time coaching against the Pirates with both UH and Louisville, the stadium offers a unique challenge.

“We’ve got some new coaches who have never coached there, and I told them this may be the best environment we play at all year,” Levine said. “I told our staff and I told our team when we’re driving in on the bus, there will be as many people tailgating as you’ve seen this year; there will be people there waving to you. When you get out there for warm-ups, there will always be a couple people sitting in the stands welcoming you to their stadium early.”

For veteran players, the message conveyed to a young team is the game and its goals will remain the same regardless of venues.

“It’s still a 100-yard football field — it’s still 53 1/3 (yards) wide. Football is football and you can play in any state or any country and it’s the same,” said Ameen Behbahani, senior defensive lineman. “We try to tell them that nothing is going to change. You’ve just got to play your game and do your job.”

Early season struggles

One startling statistic weighing heavily on the Cougars is their 15 combined turnovers outside Houston. At the University of California, Los Angeles, UH threw five interceptions to go along with one fumble. Against Southern Methodist University, the Cougars were picked off six times and lost three fumbles.

“I don’t really know why it was those road games. It wasn’t the crowd noise,” said redshirt sophomore quarterback David Piland. “It wasn’t anything that we necessarily did that was any different, but we’re going into it this week and it’s been a big deal — ball security and away games. Not only that but creating our own energy and having fun with the game when there’s not fans to cheer every time you catch the ball.”

Levine also spoke Tuesday about the Cougars’ inability to utilize the fade and true post routes, the way former quarterback Case Keenum and receiver Patrick Edwards were able to.

“Right now, I’d like to take some more shots down the field. That’s probably not one of our strengths offensively right now, so we’ve stayed away from that,” Levine said. “When you talk about Dave throwing fades to Deontay Greenberry and Larry McDuffey and Xavier Maxwell, you’re talking about a sophomore throwing to two true freshman and a junior college transfer; it’s not a sixth year senior throwing to a fifth year senior.”

The Cougars, who have won four of their last five games, will take on East Carolina at 11 a.m. Saturday in Greenville, N.C. The game will air on Fox Sports Net.

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