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Saturday, February 4, 2023

Football

UH football: Previewing the Independence Bowl matchup against Louisiana


UH football receiver Nathaniel "Tank" Dell is one of many Cougars who will be playing in their last collegiate game on Friday in the Independence Bowl . | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

UH football receiver Nathaniel “Tank” Dell is one of many Cougars who will be playing in their last collegiate game on Friday in the Independence Bowl . | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

In an age where players heading to the NFL often opt-out of their team’s bowl game, UH’s veterans decided to come back to end a season that head coach Dana Holgorsen has called “disappointing” the right way. 

Coming off a 12-win season, UH entered the season as the favorite to win the American Athletic Conference and represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl.

In reality, the Cougars went 7-5 and were nowhere close to returning to the conference title game.

“It’s a disappointing season,” Holgorsen said. “Obviously we did not meet expectations that were put on us.”

The regular-season finale loss to a Tulsa team that finished the season under .500 still stings those within the program. UH hopes to use the Independence Bowl as an opportunity to right some of its wrongs and send the program into the Big 12 on a high note.

“We owe UH a win,” said senior defensive end Atlias Bell. “To me, I feel like we shouldn’t have lost any games. So, I feel like we definitely owe this to the community, the fans and everyone who supports us. We deserve to go win this game.”

A look at Louisiana

By ending the regular season with a 41-13 win over Texas State, Louisiana (6-6) punched its ticket to a bowl game for the fifth straight year, a new program record.

Chandler Fields, who started the season at quarterback before missing five games due to injury, returned for the Ragin’ Cajuns for their final two games of the regular season and will be start in the Independence Bowl. In seven games, the sophomore has thrown for 954 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. 

Senior receiver Michael Jefferson leads the Ragin’ Cajuns in receptions (51), receiving yards (810) and touchdown catches (7). No other player on the roster has caught more than 22 passes or eclipsed 300 yards receiving.

Junior running back Chris Smith leads the team in rushing with 579 yards on 112 carries.

As a whole, Louisiana’s offense averages 27 points on 367.9 yards per game.

Defensively, the Ragin’ Cajuns give up an average of just 22.83 points on 361.8 yards per game.

Linebacker Jourdan Quibodeaux leads the Ragin’ Cajuns with 93 tackles while defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill-Green has a team-high seven sacks.

Storylines for Houston

One last ride for Clayton Tune and Nathaniel Dell 

In three seasons together, the connection between quarterback Clayton Tune and receiver Nathaniel “Tank” Dell has been one of the most electric in the country, combining for 2,989 yards and 28 touchdowns on 217 connections through the air. Most of these numbers have come over the past two seasons as Dell has recorded two consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

“We just built a relationship on the field and off the field,” Dell said when asked about his chemistry with Tune. “That’s another reason why I wanted to play (in the Independence Bowl) cause I didn’t want to leave Tune.”

With both Tune and Dell set to enter the 2023 NFL Draft, the duo hopes to give Cougar fans one final iconic performance to cap off their time at UH.

“I feel like I owe that to Tune,” Dell said. “Let’s go out with a bang.”

Homecoming

The state of Louisiana is home to five players on the UH roster: Atlas Bell (DL), Christian Trahan (TE), Sedrick Williams (DL), Trevonte Sylvester (OL) and Roman Mula (QB). 

“I’m just happy to be back in the state in general,” Bell said. “I love Louisiana”

For Bell, who has 37 tackles including 3.5 sacks this season, and Trahan, who has hauled in 105 receptions for 1,186 yards and nine touchdowns in five years at UH, the Independence Bowl will be the final game in their collegiate careers.

Farewell to the American Athletic Conference

When UH takes the field at Independence Field on Friday it will mark the Cougars last game as a member of the AAC. 

Since joining the AAC on July 1, 2013, UH has gone 50-28 in league play which includes winning the inaugural conference championship game in 2015.

Tune became the conference’s first quarterback to throw for 100 career touchdowns in UH’s regular-season finale against Tulsa. With 101 touchdown passes in his career, Tune sits atop the AAC’s leaderboard.

How to watch

Kickoff in Shreveport, La. is set for 2 p.m. on Friday and will air on ESPN. The game can also be heard via radio on KPRC 950 AM.

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