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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Football

Dana Holgorsen: Finishing 2020 with a win UH’s No. 1 priority


UH football cornerback Marcus Jones hurdles over a USF defender in the Cougars’ 56-21 victory earlier in the season. Head coach Dana Holgorsen has praised Jones throughout the season, calling him the best punt returner in the country. | Courtesy of UH athletics

UH football cornerback Marcus Jones hurdles over a USF defender in the Cougars’ 56-21 victory earlier in the season. Head coach Dana Holgorsen has praised Jones throughout the season, calling him the best punt returner in the country. | Courtesy of UH athletics

In a year featuring many firsts, the Houston football team is entering a bowl season like no other in the history of college football.

Typically, there are a bunch of festivities in the days before the bowl game that both teams playing in it take part in. But this year there is none of that due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, the Cougars will not even arrive in Frisco, the site of this year’s New Mexico Bowl due to COVID-19 restrictions in the state of New Mexico, until around 6 p.m. on Wednesday, which is less than 24 hours before kickoff.

Despite all the differences to this year’s bowl season, UH head coach Dana Holgorsen and his team are just thankful to get to play one more time in 2020, after having an FBS leading eight games postponed or canceled throughout the season.

“Clearly everybody understands it’s not your typical bowl game,” Holgorsen told the media Wednesday afternoon. “But being able to represent the University of Houston in the New Mexico Bowl is an honor.”

Like all their previous games this season, the Cougars will be without multiple players, between 12-16 to be exact Holgorsen said. They will be out for a variety of reasons,” the head coach told reporters.

Three of those players are seniors Grant Stuard, Payton Turner and Marquez Stevenson, who all opted out of the bowl game to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

But UH is used to being without some of its key players and the Cougars are approaching the Christmas Eve showdown against Hawaii the same way they’ve approached every game in 2020: with a next man up mentality.

“The next man always up,” junior cornerback Marcus Jones said. “That’s the philosophy we always start with and end the season with as well.”

UH has extra fuel coming into the bowl game as the team is coming off a crushing loss against Memphis as time expired after rallying all the way back from a 21-point fourth quarter deficit.

“We’ve been able to flush (the Memphis loss) for the most part but we’re still going to use that feeling we had after the game — that sick to our stomach feeling — we’re going to use that to fuel us (against Hawaii),” junior quarterback Clayton Tune said. 

Both Holgorsen and Tune said that the team has shown good energy and high morale in the practices leading up to the bowl game and will be ready to play come kickoff.

The New Mexico Bowl also presents one last opportunity for seniors and other guys that will not be returning to cap off their UH career with a victory.

Tune emphasized how important it was to him personally to be able win this bowl game for his teammates who will be playing their final game in the Cougar red and white.

“We want to send the seniors and the guy who aren’t going to be returning the right way and come out with the W,” Tune said.

Ultimately, the Cougars have had many ups and downs during the 2020 season but this matchup against Hawaii is one last opportunity for UH to end the chaotic year on a positive note.

Finishing 2020 the right way with a victory is number one on the list,” Holgorsen said. “(A win over Hawaii) is going to help us in 2021. It’s going to help us gain momentum (for 2021) if we win.

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