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UH football: Previewing the Cougars’ homecoming game against USF

UH football junior receiver Nathaniel Dell leads the Cougars with eight touchdown catches through seven games in 2022. | James Mueller/The Cougar

UH football junior receiver Nathaniel Dell leads the Cougars with eight touchdown catches through seven games in 2022. | James Mueller/The Cougar

After a rough start, UH football has strung together a couple of wins in a row to put the Cougars right in the mix for an American Athletic Conference title.

Looking to win its third conference game in a row, UH will have to get past USF in an early kickoff on Saturday.

A look at USF

While the record is not there (1-6), USF is a few plays away from its season looking completely different.

A total of seven points, a 3-point loss to Florida in Week 3 and a 4-point loss to Cincinnati, have separated the Bulls from two ranked wins this season.

“When you look at their record, it is very misleading,” said UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk. “These guys are coached very well schematically.”

Offensively, USF faces a major challenge for the second of the season as the Bulls will be without quarterback Gerry Bohannon after he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury two weeks ago against Tulane.

Luckily for the Bulls, they are coming off a bye week which has given them ample time to sophomore Katravis Marsh, USF’s presumable starter for the remainder of the season, ready to lead the offense.

Entering the game against Tulane late in the second quarter after Bohannon’s injury, Marsh threw for 150 yards and two touchdowns.

Sophomore running back Brian Battie is the Bulls’ best playmaker and can change the game at any moment. Battie has rushed for 493 yards and four touchdowns on 81 carries this season.

“He’s one of the most dynamic guys at his position in the country,” Belk said.

Xavier Weaver and Jimmy Horn Jr. are major weapons in the receiving game. The duo has combined for 54 catches, 397 yards and six touchdowns through seven games.

No other USF receiver has double-digit receptions or eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark.

Defense has been a major struggle for a USF squad that ranks fourth-worst in the FBS in yards allowed per game (487.9). Stops have been scarce for a Bulls defense that gives up 7 yards per play.

Key questions for UH

Does UH clean up its kickoff coverage?

While UH came away with the win against USF a season ago, kickoff coverage was a disaster.

Battie had two 100-yard kickoff return touchdowns, one to open the game and the other late in the second quarter.

“We all know what happened last year,” said UH head coach Dana Holgorsen. “They returned two kicks for a touchdown. So, if you think we’re going to not obsess over kickoff, we’re going to obsess over kickoff.”

While UH has yet to allow a kickoff return in 2022, the coverage team has shown many flaws. Battie could have another monster performance in the return game if UH does not clean things up.

“Our coverage has got to improve,” Holgorsen said.

Will UH once again start fast on offense?

After offense lulls to begin games for most of the season, the Cougars scored on their first two possessions against Navy a week ago en route to a blowout victory.

With a USF defense that has struggled all season to get off the field, it is important that the UH offense continues to build on what it did a week ago and put up first-quarter points against the Bulls on Saturday.

Look for the Cougars to continue to be aggressive early like they were against Navy in order to put to bed for good any concerns about slow starts.

How does UH match up with USF?

UH is better than USF on both sides of the ball. The Cougars should easily take care of the Bulls if they play clean, fundamental football.

Look for senior quarterback Clayton Tune, the reigning AAC Offensive Player of the Week, to put up numbers that pop off the stats sheet as well as expect another big game from junior receiver Nathaniel Dell.

Defensively, if the Cougars can stop Battle and the Bulls’ run game and force Marsh to put the ball in the air, good things for UH will happen.

How to watch

Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. and will air on ESPN2. The game can also be heard via radio on KPRC 950 AM.

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