Dana Holgorsen: Houston needs to improve at defending short plays, Manjack likely out rest of year

Houston Cougars football head coach Dana Holgorsen prior to the team’s game against South Florida on Oct. 29 at TDECU Stadium. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)

Dana Holgorsen: Houston needs to improve at defending short plays, Manjack likely out rest of year

With only two games left in the regular season, Houston Cougars football head coach Dana Holgorsen is aiming for his team to close the year off strong.

The Cougars have battled through inconsistency, injuries, nail-biting matchups, and rough stretches throughout 2022, but despite the adversity, Holgorsen on Monday reiterated how prideful he is of how his team has refused to throw in the towel.

“6-4. Team doesn’t quit. Our guys keep fighting. I am proud of that,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve been down at halftime pretty much every game for whatever reasons. Call it coaching if you want, but we keep fighting, and we found a way to win a lot of these close games to where we can hang out there and enjoy some of these victories. Better than the alternative.”

Against Temple, UH once again had to battle through all the adversity it has seen this season. Houston dealt with injuries. Defensive back Jayce Rogers and linebacker Mannie Nunnery did not play, and the Cougars saw running back Stacy Sneed and receiver Samuel Brown suffer two more of their own during the outing, Holgorsen said.

On the season, the Houston Cougars have seen key players like defensive end Derek Parish and defensive back Alex Hogan, along with a lengthy list of numerous others, deal with injuries. Multiple players have suffered season-ending injuries.

On Monday, Holgorsen said receiver Joseph Manjack, who has been battling a hand injury since the end of September, will likely be out for the rest of the season.

“At this point, I’m saving Manjack,” Holgorsen said. “He’s not quite ready. We got two games left. He’s not quite ready. I’m not going to play him.”

Manjack has only played four games this season for Houston, which means the sophomore could count this campaign as a redshirt year if he does not play in another game.

Another issue has been Houston’s defense. On Saturday, the secondary struggled to contain Temple’s offense. The Owls had 254 yards after the catch, and Temple quarterback E.J. Warner was able to throw for 486 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.

“I think our second-level pass defense was horrendous,” the head coach said. “I think missed tackles were abundantly clear and unacceptable. Our second level’s got to play better with coverage underneath and tackling.”

As has been the case for six of Houston’s 10 games, the matchup came down to the final drive of the contest to determine who came out victorious. Warner led a drive that put the Owls up 36-35 with under two minutes in the contest.

Houston quarterback Clayton Tune was able to one-up that drive by finding receiver Matthew Golden streaking down the field for a huge touchdown that proved to be the final go-ahead score, but the head coach said his defense needs to improve at stopping the short-passing game.

“We got to get better at that,” Holgorsen said. “Linebackers, nickels, corners, safeties down. We have to get better at [defending] easy, short, uncontested catches. It is not good enough.”

The sixth win for Houston qualified them for a bowl game. With games at East Carolina and home against Tulsa as the final games of the regular season, Holgorsen said he does not engage in conversations with players that are seeking to play in the NFL during the season.

“The only thing that we’ve said is that everybody is constantly getting evaluated,” Holgorsen said. “If you think I am not getting evaluated every week, I mean, it starts with me. I’m well aware of the fact that I am being evaluated every week. Our coaching staff is getting evaluated every week.”

“Seniors … they are building their resumé right now. So, what you put on video and how you play is what your resumé is. So if anybody has NFL aspirations, I recommend playing at the highest level that you possibly can.”

Around the American

Central Florida (8-2, 5-1 AAC) senior quarterback John Rhys Plumlee was named the American Athletic Conference’s offensive player of the week for accumulating 308 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.

Plumlee gashed Tulane (8-2, 5-1 AAC) on the ground, rushing for 176 yards and two touchdowns as the Knights defeated the Green Wave, 38-31, to get the edge atop the AAC.

Tulsa (3-7, 1-5 AAC) senior linebacker Justin Wright was named the league’s defensive player of the week. Wright had 13 tackles, including 2.5 of them for losses, and forced a fumble, but it was Memphis that came out victorious, 26-10.

Across the rest of the league, Cincinnati (8-2, 5-1 AAC) kept pace with Tulane and UCF as it narrowly beat East Carolina, 27-25. Navy (3-7, 3-4 AAC) just fell to Notre Dame in Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium, 35-32. SMU (6-4, 4-2 AAC) beat South Florida (1-9, 0-6 AAC), 41-23.

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