Houston Cougars running back Ta’Zhawn Henry shined in UH’s 48-30 loss against Kansas on Sept. 17 at TDECU Stadium. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)
Houston (1-2) vs Rice (2-1)
Game time: 5 p.m. CT
TV/radio: ESPN+/KPRC 950 AM
What’s at stake: The Houston Cougars seek to avoid a three-game skid and its first loss to Rice since Oct. 16, 2010, when the Owls won 34-31. Since then, the Cougars have won six straight games against Rice. The winner of Saturday’s game will also go home with the Bayou Bucket, a trophy that goes to the winner between Houston and Rice after each game.
When the Cougars have the ball: Houston will look to put together a consistent performance for the first time this season. UH scored only seven points in the first half against UTSA and three points in the first half against Texas Tech. After scoring 14 points in its first two possessions against Kansas, the Cougars were held scoreless for the rest of the half and just 16 points the rest of the contest.
Despite the offensive inconsistencies, Houston has had players shine through the first three games, including receiver Nathaniel Dell, who leads the team with 246 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
When Rice has the ball: Defensively, the Cougars will need to adjust at linebacker after head coach Dana Holgorsen said linebacker Malik Robinson is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Robinson was sixth on the team in tackles.
The Houston Cougars defense will need to contain a Rice offense that is balanced, Holgorsen said on Monday. Rice is led by quarterback TJ McMahon, who has thrown seven touchdowns and six interceptions through three games.
Against Louisiana, which entered the game against the Owls with a 15-game winning streak – the longest active streak in the country at the time – McMahon threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. McMahon’s top target heading into the game is receiver Luke McCaffrey, who has garnered 202 yards and two touchdowns.
Running backs Ari Broussard and Cameron Montgomery could pose problems for UH, as both have rushed for over 100 yards on the season. Broussard also has four rushing touchdowns through three games.
Key Cougars to watch: Running back Brandon Campbell suffered an ankle injury against Kansas, Holgorsen said on Monday. The head coach said he was day-to-day. Campbell is the leading rusher for UH with 177 yards and two touchdowns.
Fellow running back Ta’Zhawn Henry is coming off his strongest game of the season, where he did most of his damage through the air as he caught five passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. He also added 56 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
Offensive linemen Patrick Paul, Cam’Ron Johnson, Jack Freeman and Tyler Johnson played their best game yet, Holgorsen said. The right tackle position is still an issue, but offensive lineman Lance Robinson has been battling and getting better, Holgorsen added. Houston’s offensive line will continue to be a group to watch against Rice.
The bottom line: Holgorsen admitted the Cougars are at a pivotal point in their season, and they’re about to find out who the team is against Rice.