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Monday, December 9, 2019

Football

Houston ‘underdogs again’ in AAC West battle against No. 18 Memphis


Head coach Dana Holgorsen admitted, "We have been underdogs in almost every game we played this year," and Houston "are underdogs again" versus No. 18 Memphis. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

Head coach Dana Holgorsen admitted, “We have been underdogs in almost every game we played this year,” and Houston “are underdogs again” versus No. 18 Memphis. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

When No. 18 Memphis (8-1, 4-1, No. 18 CFP) rolls into TDECU Stadium on homecoming Saturday to face Houston in yet another top-25 matchup, the Cougars will be longshots to win.

UH, sitting at fifth in the American Athletic Conference West at 3-6 overall and 1-4 in the AAC, is no stranger to being the dark horse this season, and Week 12 will be no different.

“Underdogs again”

Four ranked teams have lined up against the Cougars in 2019, and Houston lost on each occasion.

“We have been underdogs in almost every game we played this year,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said.

Saturday’s game marks the seventh time in program history and first since 1996’s Conference USA championship team that the Cougars will face off against at least five ranked opponents.

Had it not been for UCF’s early-October loss to then-unranked Cincinnati and subsequent fall from the AP Poll, it would be six.

Instead, barring two disastrous Navy losses to Notre Dame and SMU, the Midshipmen may be the Cougars’ sixth ranked opponent that would tie a 1977 school record.

“Not that I really pay attention to that too much, but we have been underdogs in almost every game,” Holgorsen said, “and we are underdogs again.”

AAC implications

In recent seasons, Houston-Memphis has been a pivotal game in The American.

“There has been some good history between the two,” Holgorsen said of the two programs.

Just last year, the Tigers’ 52-31 win over the Cougars at the Liberty Bowl derailed UH’s then-8-3 season, stealing an AAC West title and a berth in the conference championship game in the process.

It will be no different in 2019, a year that has seen five American teams reach the Top 25.

“The league is so dang good.” Holgorsen said of the success the AAC has seen in 2019. “We’re talking top-20 teams here.”

Memphis sits a half game behind No. 20 SMU (9-1, 5-1, unranked CFP), who the Tigers beat two weeks ago, and No. 21 Navy (7-1, 5-1, No. 23 CFP), their Week 5 opponents who they bested 35-23.

As for the Houston, a win would keep them from dropping to last in the West with Tulsa, its Week 13 foe.

It could also kill the Tigers’ run for the West with the East-leading No. 17 Cincinnati Bearcats (8-1, 5-0, No. 17 CFP) still on Memphis’ schedule.

“We are going to continue to get better,” Holgorsen said, “and we are going to be one of those teams next year.”

But for now, Holgorsen and his squad are heading into another conference game undermanned.

Beat up

The bye week could not have come sooner for the beat-up Cougars, who have been shorthanded most of the season due to injury.

“I can’t remember who’s out and who’s not,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “There’s so many of them.”

Among them are senior running back Patrick Carr (shoulder) and sophomore quarterback Clayton Tune, who Holgorsen said “tweaked his knee just a little bit” against UCF.

Tune previously missed two weeks of practice and sat against UConn due to a hamstring injury, but his head coach reassured “his hamstring was fine.”

“I don’t think he is running as well as he did,” Holgorsen said, “and I think the bye week is going to really do him some good.”

The team has also struggled up front, where Holgorsen may have to play freshman linemen such as Patrick Paul and Cam’ron Johnson.

“Nobody wants to play a freshman offensive lineman ever in the history of football,” he said. “Ever. I don’t care where you’re at. Nobody wants to play freshmen.”

Some linemen, Holgorsen said, have little to no experience, and it is difficult to be successful that way.

“That’s the worst situation you could possibly be in,” he said. “Period.”

And in Week 12, there isn’t much Holgorsen can do.

“We’re not going to develop a new offense at this point in the year,” he said. “We get to game ten, you are who you are.

“I’m just hoping not to lose anymore, or lose anymore bodies.”

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