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Dana Holgorsen praises Clayton Tune, defense after Tulane win

UH junior quarterback Clayton Tune scans the field in the 2020 season-opener against Tulane at TDECU Stadium. | Courtesy of UH athletics

UH junior quarterback Clayton Tune scans the field in the 2020 season-opener against Tulane at TDECU Stadium. | Courtesy of UH athletics

The UH football team was finally able to begin the 2020 season after a month of nonstop cancellations and postponements, and while the opening quarter of the new campaign was shaky for Houston, the team was able to settle down, slowly clawed its way out of an early hole, and then exploded in the second half.

Houston (1-0, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) defeated Tulane (2-2, 0-2 AAC) 49-31, and for head coach Dana Holgorsen and the Cougars, who outscored the Green Wave 42-7 to end the game, it was a bit shocking in how quickly they were able to flip the switch. A big reason for the change in the script was because of the poise that Tune and the rest of the offense showed.

“He doesn’t get rattled,” Holgorsen said. “There’s a lot of quarterbacks that would call it a day (after the early turnovers).

While Houston was able to move the ball down the field for most of the game, especially in the third quarter, the first was the complete opposite, and it was evident that Houston was also battling rust.

On the first drive of the season, the Cougars looked to have a promising march going after a 30-yard connection between junior quarterback Clayton Tune and senior wide receiver Marquez Stevenson, but it soon turned into a disaster as they got themselves into a fourth and medium situation at midfield, which allowed the Tulane defense to pressure Tune and he threw an interception.

The pick was taken to the house by junior safety Macon Clark, and the Cougars quickly saw themselves facing a deficit. The turnovers did not end there as on the third drive of the game, Tune was sacked by graduate student linebacker Kevin Henry, which caused him to fumble.

The ball was picked up by nose tackle Jeffrey Johnson, and he scored. On Houston’s fifth drive of the contest, the team turned it over again as Stevenson made a reception and then fumbled, which led to another score for the Green Wave.

“There was never a doubt in my mind that we weren’t going to win that game,” Tune said. “I knew our defense was going to play well, and we were going to step up as an offense.”

Third Ward Defense

As Tune mentioned, the unit that was consistent for the Cougars all game long was their defense, which held Tulane freshman quarterback Michael Pratt to 141 passing yards and a touchdown. He was also sacked six times. 

Houston did not allow Tulane’s rushing attack, which was the best in the conference entering the game, to get going either as it held sophomore running back Cameron Carroll to only 34 yards, and the entire rushing group to only 70 yards combined. The first time this season in which Tulane did not finish with over 100 rushing yards in a contest.

“They had nowhere to run,” senior linebacker Grant Stuard said. “They had no choice but to run through us and that’s not going to happen.”

After trailing by 17, the Cougars put together a 10-play, 75-yard drive and never looked back. Houston scored 21 unanswered points to take a four-point lead before Tulane responded with a touchdown of their own, but that lead was short-lived as Stevenson busted a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown that gave the Cougars a lead they would never relinquish.

Despite the high offensive numbers, however, Holgorsen really emphasized and praised his defensive unit for the effort that they put in even when the offense was turning the ball over early, and he said that he was really happy with the defensive line.

As for the offense, Holgorsen said that they have plenty to improve, especially on the offensive line, which had a few breakdowns early that allowed Tulane defenders to have free lanes into the backfield, but overall, the head coach put the main blame on the team just not being used to the speed of the game, and he expects them to improve as the season progresses.

“We have a chance to be really good in the passing game,” Holgorsen said. “There’s a lot we left out there.”

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