5 observations from Houston Cougars win against Navy

Houston Cougars quarterback Clayton Tune eyes the field against the Navy Midshipmen on Saturday, Oct. 22, in Annapolis, Maryland. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)

5 observations from Houston Cougars win against Navy

The Houston Cougars have won back-to-back games for the first time in the 2022 season. The Cougars’ win against Navy was the most complete game of the year, but it was not without its highs and lows.

Check out these five observations from the 38-20 win by the Houston Cougars.

A perfect start

The opening quarter of games has been an issue for the Cougars all season long, but on Saturday, Houston put together its best first act of 2022.

UH’s offense started the game by carving up Navy’s defense. The first play of the game was a 23-yard connection from quarterback Clayton Tune to receiver Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell to start the game.

The Cougars continued to march down the field with a completion to tight end Christian Trahan and rushes by running back Brandon Campbell and Tune. The seven-play, 75-yard drive ended with a six-yard touchdown catch by Dell.

On the subsequent Navy possession, Houston defensive back Jayce Rogers picked off an awful pass by Midshipmen quarterback Tai Lavatai that was brutally off-target and set up UH’s offense at Navy’s 35-yard line. The Cougars capitalized on the Midshipmen’s mistake with another touchdown catch by Dell, this time an 11-yard score for the receiver.

Third Ward defense sinks Midshipmen

Houston’s defense looked sharp against Navy’s option offense. The Cougars did a great job at containing and handling many of the Midshipmen’s play actions, pitches, options, and all the trickery and confusion they create with their formations and schemes.

The best example came in the second quarter when Houston stuffed Lavatai on fourth-and-three as he attempted to rush for the first down in the Cougars’ territory.

Houston linebacker Mannie Nunnery took away the option for Lavatai to toss to Navy fullback Daba Fofana, and then UH defensive linemen Chidozie Nwankwo, Nelson Ceaser, and Jamaree Caldwell pounced on Lavatai to force the turnover on downs.

Outside of Navy’s lone touchdown drive in the first half, which was set up by Campbell’s fumble, the Midshipmen offense was unable to consistently move against Houston’s defense. The other Navy touchdown in the third quarter was a defensive score by the Midshipmen.

Houston picked off Lavatai two times, one by Rogers and the other by cornerback Art Green. Houston did give up one long touchdown toward the end of the game. It was a 41-yard reception by receiver Jayden Umbarger.

Costly mistakes aid Navy

Just when it seemed like Houston was on the verge of taking complete control of the game in the second quarter, Navy linebacker Eavan Gibbons forced Campbell to fumble on a rush that seemed like it was going to put Houston in prime position to score another touchdown and go up three scores.

Houston had just completed a huge chunk play as Tune connected with receiver KeSean Carter for a 52-yard pass completion that put the ball at Navy’s 28-yard line. Instead, the turnover by Campbell set Navy’s offense up at its own 20-yard line after a touchback on the fumble recovery.

The Midshipmen then executed two big plays, a 52-yard catch by Umbarger and a 25-yard rush by fullback Daba Fofana that resulted in the first touchdown of the game for Navy. The score cut Houston’s lead at the time in half and made it 14-7.

The Houston Cougars also struggled with holding onto the ball, particularly coming out of halftime. Navy forced four UH fumbles and recovered three. The Midshipmen were able to convert two of those fumbles into touchdowns leading to 14 Navy points.

For a Navy offense that struggled to consistently move the ball against Houston’s defense, the turnovers were a lifeline for the Midshipmen. Navy managed to force Campbell, Dell, and Tune to each cough up the football. On Tune’s fumble, it resulted in a scoop-and-score touchdown by Navy linebacker Jianni Woodson-Brooks.

Houston’s offense explodes against Navy

Heading into the week, Tune said he believed the offense was trending toward passing more as a unit. Houston threw the ball 30 times against Navy, and Tune went 21-of-30 for 261 yards and five touchdowns on the afternoon.

The Cougars were able to move the ball effortlessly against the Midshipmen for much of the game, outside of the start of the third quarter. Houston only punted once against Navy, and it did not come until the fourth quarter.

Dell caught eight passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Stacy Sneed was able to come into the game and lead Houston in rushing, accumulating 100 yards, most of which came after Campbell’s fumble.

Penalties under control

The Houston Cougars had another first against Navy. It was the first time UH did not commit more than four accepted penalties against an opponent, by far the lowest all season. Houston’s previous low in penalties was the seven against Memphis.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Doug Belk have reiterated the need to cut down on those mistakes all season long.

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