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UH vs. UT: Previewing the season’s most anticipated game

UH is set to face off against No. 8 Texas on Saturday in front of a sold-out TDECU Stadium crowd. | Anh Le/The Cougar

The Houston Cougars will be playing the Texas Longhorns for the first time in 20 years. The game will be the first and only time the two Texas universities face each other as opponents in the Big 12. 

The matchup is a dream for college football fans in Houston. Particularly for those familiar with the storied tradition of the Texas football program, and UH’s bitter history with the Longhorns.

A familiar foe for Holgorsen

UH head coach Dana Holgorsen called Texas “our biggest challenge yet,” being the No. 8-ranked team in the country though coming off a 34-30 loss to Oklahoma.

Holgorsen last faced the Longhorns in 2018 as head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers, where he helped lead West Virginia to a 41-34 win in overtime. 

“To have two weeks off after that loss, they’re going to be about as motivated as anybody in college football coming to Houston,” Holgorsen said. “They’re good everywhere. They’re talented everywhere. We’ll be excited about playing this game and our fan base is going to be excited.”

Defensive challenges

The Houston defense will have a challenge facing a highly touted Longhorns offense with playmakers such as sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers and sophomore running back Jonathan Brooks.

“Their offense is playing at a high level,” Holgorsen said. “It’s going to be a challenge for our defense. We took a step in the right direction last week, and our last possession against West Virginia was unacceptable, but we’ll clean it up.”

The Longhorns have averaged 35 points per game this season. On defense, UT has held opponents to only scoring  an average of 16 points per game. 

Holgorsen credited Texas’ overall dominance on both ends. He also acknowledged the Cougars are huge underdogs going into the game. 

“Beating Texas is going to be hard and we know that. Where they’re at now is different. They’re going to be heavy favorites, so we got to cut it loose. Let’s go out there and ball,” Holgorsen said.

Smith’s experience

Talking about junior quarterback Donovan Smith, who defeated Texas at Texas Tech last season, Holgorsen said the experience at quarterback instills confidence in the team.

“That gives you confidence as a coach. You watch him play that game against Texas last year, he played well,” Holgorsen said. “Donovan is a confident kid. Nothing can bother him, he’s unflappable. He’s playing at a high level right now and I think he’s going to continue to get better.”

Last year, Smith had 331 yards and two touchdowns against the Longhorns. Smith will look to rekindle that success and build upon an impressive game against West Virginia where he had five touchdowns and 287 total yards.

“I definitely feel like each game I’ve been improving, in different ways and in different aspects,” Smith said. “It’s a football game, we’re all here to play just like we would as a kid. It’s just a bigger stage.”

Building chemistry on offense

Sophomore wide receiver Joseph Manjack IV, a Texas native, talked about the weight of the game.

“It’s exciting. It’s going to be cool to see all of the fans out there,” Manjack said. “We just have to go out there and execute our job at the end of the day.” 

Manjack has recorded two touchdowns in his previous two games and will look to build on that against Texas. 

The UH receivers room has been focused, with sophomores Matthew Golden, Joseph Manjack IV, and Stephon Johnson being key contributors in the win last week.

Matthew Golden is set to play against Texas after departing the West Virginia game early with a groin injury.

The stakes

A sold-out crowd is set for TDECU Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

UH has an opportunity to diminish the Texas’ playoff aspirations. With a loss to Oklahoma on the books, the Longhorns have no margin for error and Houston has nothing to lose. 

The Cougars will be faced with a herculean effort to pull off a remarkable upset, and only time will tell if they can deliver a second Big 12 victory.

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