Cougars look for second-ever 8-0 conference record

Doug Belk huddles with the defensive backs / Photo by Mario Puente

Friday night has a helluva lot of meaning for the Houston Cougars.

Finishing with a perfect 8-0 record in the conference. Winning 10 games. Going undefeated at home. Staying alive to host the AAC title game. Moving up from #24 in the CFP rankings. Ending Memphis’ five-game winning streak in the series.

Memphis’ offensive tackles have struggled against athletic defensive lines this season. Memphis starters Gambill (#65) and Dale (#75) will give UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk and DL coach Brian Early plenty of opportunities to bring pressure from the outside. They’ve combined to give up 18 pressures in the last three games.

Another spot to keep an eye on is left guard. Ellis (#74) has started seven games and has had difficulties, most notably against SMU. He did not play against ECU last week after suffering an injury late in the SMU game. His replacement Fields (#71) was solid against the Pirates but had a rough game against Tulsa earlier in the year.

Against the Tigers, will UH re-establish their play-action attack? What about throwing to the deep middle (over the middle pass where the ball travels 10+ yards in the air)? In swirling winds last Saturday in Philly, Tune was not sharp on throws of 10+ yards (6/16 for 95 yards). But in the prior two weeks, against SMU and USF, Tune was dynamite in play-action (17/21 for 396 yards and 3 TDs) and to the deep middle (18/21 for 415 and 5 TDs).

SMU and USF make up about half of his season-long production to the deep middle. Will that production resume Friday night? Here are his season stats to the deep middle:

Memphis has not been challenged in the deep middle since the first two weeks of the season. Arkansas State and Mississippi State combined to go 13/19 for 342 yards and two scores in those two games.

The Cougars have not beaten Memphis since that wild, chilly November night in 2015. The Cougars were ranked 16th then, and, currently, they are #17.

That 35-34 win was UH’s 10th season, and a win tonight would be #10 in 2021.

A week after the 2015 Memphis game, UH went to UConn. Next week, the Cougars travel to UConn.

Tonight will be the fifth game in TDECU history with a start time of 8 p.m. or later. The Cougars are 2-2 in those games to this point:

8:20 p.m. – ECU 2021
8:30 p.m. – BYU 2020
8:00 p.m. – Temple 2014
8:00 p.m. – UTSA 2014

UH kicked off vs. Wazzu at NRG at 8:15 p.m. in 2019. The ECU game was scheduled for 3 p.m. but was delayed by lightning.

Senior Night is supposed to be a special celebration for the guys that have dedicated 3-4-5 years to the program, but it has been a while since a UH senior class has had a true celebration.

There was no Senior Night last year due to COVID cancellations and two years ago, UH lost on Senior Night to Navy, 56-41. The Cougars won in 2018 but that Thursday night game was marred by D’Eriq King’s injury and the Major Applewhite/Ed Oliver jacket fiasco.

I suspect the 2021 seniors will have a much better night.

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