Cougar rush defense is shutting down everyone


In the first four weeks of the season, UH’s opponents averaged 128.5 ypg on the ground and the Coogs were 55th nationally in rush defense. The last four weeks? 64 ypg rushing given up; UH has slashed opponents’ rushing in half. SMU was the fourth-straight game that UH has held an opponent under 100 yards rushing (and 5th out of 6 games). Teams are running for two yards a carry in the last four weeks (256 yards on 125 carries).

The Cougars are now #10 nationally in rush defense.

UH was efficient early, scoring 19 points on 17 plays in the first quarter. Then SMU became the efficient ones: they scored 27 points on 21 plays in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. UH scored 13 points on 46 plays in the same span.

Houston has thrown for 4+ TDs in 15 games against FBS opponents in the last decade. The Cougars are just 7-8 in those games yet three of the wins came against ranked teams.

#16 SMU 2021 (4 passing TDs)
#20 USF 2018 (5)
#15 Navy 2015 (4)

Tune’s 412 yards passing is the most by a UH QB since that USF game in 2018.

Marcus Jones scoring on kickoff return TDs in back-to-back weeks is impressive. But he’s still got a ways to go for the NCAA record: four-straight games with a kick return TD. Tulsa’s Ashlan Davis did it in 2004 against Boise, Nevada, Rice, and SMU in their last year in the WAC before joining C-USA.

That’s a helluva record.

UH coached believed all of last week that the Coogs would be able to stop SMU’s two-pronged running game. Aiding that was SMU’s in-game decision to abandon the balanced attack they’d established all season.

A big momentum shift was the 46-yard run nullified by Mordecai’s knee going down on a bad snap. The Mustangs lost 51 yards on the play and went from goal-to-go at the UH 3-yard line back into their own territory. After the replay reversal, it was 2nd and 15 and an obvious passing situation. But Doug Belk had his defense keyed for the run and below you can see Jayce Rogers and Donavan Mutin pointing out the run indicator before the snap then combining for the tackle:

Even after coming back to tie the game, SMU never tried to establish the run after first down. The Mustangs ran it on the first snap on seven of the first 10 drives (11th and final drive started with just 2:04 left in the game and SMU down three points). For the game, the Ponies ran it 12 times on first down for 36 yards and 12 times on other downs for 14 yards. The 24 runs were well below their season average of 38 carries a game. Five weeks earlier, SMU ran it 52 times for 350 yards against TCU.

SMU’s 50 rushing yards was the program’s lowest total in nearly three years and they haven’t run so few times (24) in two years (11/2/19 vs. Memphis). After Dana took the top off at the beginning of the game and with the early play of the UH defense, SMU abandoned who they are.

The UH drive chart from the SMU game shows consistency for much of the game. Seven scores on the first 9 drives and no punts until midway through the 4th quarter:

The last two drives are concerning, for sure, in some ways similar to the ECU game. It’s got to be cleaned up but at the end of the day, UH won close games both weeks.

On Sunday, we wrote more on Marcus Jones’ achievements in the SMU game, this season, and in his career. And while Jones was spectacular and deserves heaps of praise, it was the combined effort of UH special teams that helped win the day for the Cougars.

Laine Wilkins pinned SMU back twice with 44- and 45-yard punts. Dalton Witherspoon had three big kicks in the first half including a 50-yarder (second-longest of his career). And Gleson Sprewell blocked a PAT that was a huge momentum play in the game and changed how the game played out late.

The Cougar kickoff team did give up a kickoff return for a TD to start the 3rd quarter on the only deep ball Bubba Baxa kicked that was returnable. And it really wasn’t returnable – SMU’s Bryan Massey made an amazing play on a ball that was six yards deep in the endzone.

It was just the third play given up of 90+ yards in the last decade by UH and the first 100-yard kick return since the Armed Forces Bowl in 2009.

Clayton Tune was 10/12 on 3rd down for 133 yards.

UH scored 14 points in the 4th quarter on just 14 yards, running 11 offensive snaps (compared to 24 for SMU). But the Mustangs were 0/5 on 3rd down in the 4th quarter after going 5/9 in the first three periods. UH is still ranked #1 in the country in third-down defense.

I don’t think Time Of Possession matters by itself but it can be useful for certain trends. For instance, UH has won second-half TOP in every game this season while outscoring opponents 133-79 in that half (about seven points a game).

On top of that, UH has outscored teams 107-24 in the first quarter which is 35.9% of the team’s scoring. The play-scripting early in the game works.

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