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Saturday, September 30, 2023


Good, bad and ugly: Cougars get the victory, but at a cost


The Cougars’ defense was able to put good pressure on the Bearcats last Saturday, but a key injury in the secondary raises some concerns moving forward. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

The Cougars fought off the conference rival University of Cincinnati Bearcats in a down-to-the-wire finish to stay undefeated at 9-0, but leaving plenty of question marks. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the Cougars’ homecoming victory.

The good: winning in adversity

Despite coming into the game with a 5-4 record, the Bearcats still boast one of the best offenses in the country, particularly the passing game.

Led by senior quarterback Gunner Kiel, projected to be an NFL talent, the Tigers are fifth in the NCAA in passing offense with an average of 387 yards per game and 25 touchdowns on the year.

Even with the rainy conditions during the game, Cincinnati was able throw the ball efficiently and give the Houston all it could handle.

UH came into the game having beaten opponents by an average of 28 points per game, with most contests being wrapped up long before the clock ran out.

The Bearcats however, were down just a field goal with a chance to score in the closing seconds of the game.

The Cougars had yet to face such a challenge at home this season, but were able to answer the bell when called.

After getting picked apart much of the night, the defense came up big, getting pressure on Kiel and putting an end to a possible Cincinnati comeback.

“This is the last stretch of the season and to be tested like this, throwing the ball and putting it in the air, because a lot of teams haven’t, it was time for us to face that,” senior safety Trevon Stewart said. “I feel we held our own for the most part, and we can only go up from here.”

The bad: secondary concerns

While the UH defense was able to step up when it mattered most, the performance by the secondary has to be alarming.

Kiel was able to shred the Cougar defense for 523 yards and four touchdowns while tossing two interceptions on 51 passing attempts.

With much of the damage coming on big yardage plays by the Bearcats, 10 passing plays of 20 yards or longer, the secondary was playing catch up all game long.

With the toughest part of the Cougars schedule in full swing now, the secondary has to be the biggest concern on this 9-0 team, and, spoiler alert, it gets worse.

The ugly: two Jacksons shy

The Cougars may have won the game against the Bearcats, but it didn’t come without its costs.

Senior Ryan Jackson, the team’s No. 2 running back suffered a broken collarbone that will sideline him for the rest of the year.

Jackson took over as the primary backup to Farrow this season and had a solid season as a change of pace back, with 353 yards and three touchdowns on 68 carries and seven catches for 79 yards.

Sophomore Javin Webb will return to the role, but he lacks the explosiveness and receiving skills of his counterpart.

Late in the third quarter, UH suffered more injury news when senior starting corner William Jackson III suffered an apparent MCL sprain while making a tackle.

Though there is no timetable on his injury yet, but he is expected to miss the next few games. With the University of Memphis Tigers bringing the ninth best passing offense to town Saturday, the injury could not have come at a worse time for the Cougars.

“For our defense, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire, back-to-back weeks against Gunner Kiel and Paxton Lynch,” head coach Tom Herman said. “I don’t know a two-week stretch in the country where you’re going to face two quarterbacks with that much talent.”

Memphis’ Lynch leads the AAC with 3,014 passing yards and 19 touchdowns and likely poses the biggest passing threat Houston will face all season.

Arguably the most talented of the secondary players, Jackson III regularly locks down his side of the field, often forcing opposing quarterbacks to throw the ball elsewhere and he will be impossible for the defense to replace.

Though the Cougars were able to pass their toughest test of the season, they won’t have time to relish the victory with an even more daunting task facing them this Saturday when the Tigers come to TDECU Stadium.

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