Houston Cougars running back Brandon Campbell celebrates a touchdown run against East Carolina on Nov. 19. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)
The Houston Cougars dominated the East Carolina Pirates from start to finish on Saturday afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina.
Houston (7-4, 5-2 American Athletic) trounced ECU (6-5, 3-4 AAC) as the Cougars’ defense shut the Pirates down. UH beat East Carolina 42-3. Check out these observations from Saturday’s game.
Defense pitches first-half shutout
After weeks of scrutiny for its massive struggles, the Houston Cougars’ defense showed out against East Carolina on Saturday afternoon. For the first time since Nov. 13, 2021, the UH defense had a first-half shutout.
A big chunk of the credit for Houston’s success against East Carolina, who has one of the best quarterbacks in the AAC, was due to the stellar defensive line play. The Cougars were in the backfield multiple times throughout the first half to disrupt ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers.
At halftime, Houston had four tackles for loss, which cost the Pirates 21 yards, two pass breakups, two quarterback hurries, and forced two turnovers on downs. ECU was just 1-of-7 on third downs in the first half.
Receivers run all over Pirates
Houston’s receivers seemed to be uncovered all afternoon long. As has become the norm, receiver Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell led the way for Houston. He had racked up 115 receiving yards and a touchdown on six catches by halftime. He finished the game with nine catches for 176 yards.
Tight end Christian Trahan found a lot of success against the Pirates as well. He ended the game with six catches for 48 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Matthew Golden shined in the second half, scoring a pair of touchdowns on long passes.
The freshman continued to string together noteworthy performances since his return from a rib injury. Against East Carolina, he finished the game with eight catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
Clayton Tune shines again
Despite a shaky start for the veteran quarterback, Houston’s Clayton Tune was able to put a couple of overthrows, one of which led to an interception behind him as he helped the Cougars march up and down the field against ECU. Tune put up 256 passing yards, two touchdowns, and 36 rushing yards against the Pirates in the first half.
The Carrollton native suffered an injury toward the end of the second quarter on a scramble, which picked up a first down inside of East Carolina’s 5-yard line. Officially, UH chose not to disclose the specifics of the injury, but it looked like the quarterback hurt his left shoulder.
Tune went into the locker room early ahead of the halftime break. Backup quarterback Lucas Coley took over in the final minute of the second quarter. Coley handed off the ball to running back Brandon Campbell on the play following Tune’s injury, which ended in a 5-yard rushing touchdown.
Tune returned to the game in the third quarter and led Houston on a drive that was capped off with a 26-yard touchdown catch by receiver Matthew Golden. The quarterback ended the game 32-of-44 with 435 passing yards and four touchdowns.
D’Anthony Jones sinks the Pirates
Houston defensive lineman D’Anthony Jones put together a strong outing against East Carolina. He was a leading force against the Pirates’ offense. He pressured Ahlers throughout the afternoon, including bringing him down for a sack, recording two tackles for loss and two tackles overall against ECU. Houston had eight tackles for loss against East Carolina.
Houston puts together its best game of season
Despite the uphill battle at making it into the AAC championship game, recent struggles on the defensive side of the ball, and the craziness of the 2022 season in general, Houston went out against East Carolina and put on its best performance of the year.
The defense played brilliantly throughout, the offense seemed like it could move the ball at will, Tune was great, and even without having running back Stacy Sneed, the Cougars got good production from running backs Ta’Zhawn Henry and Brandon Campbell.
With only one game of the regular season left, head coach Dana Holgorsen’s saying about this team the entire year has been correct. They do not quit.