Houston Cougars receiver Sam Brown during last Saturday’s game against the Navy Midshipmen. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)
Houston (4-3, 2-1 AAC) vs. South Florida (1-6, 0-3 AAC)
Game time: 11 a.m. CT
TV/radio: ESPN2/KPRC 950 AM
What’s at stake: Houston is looking to win its third straight game against an injured but scrappy USF team. The Cougars are looking to keep pace with No. 20 Cincinnati and No. 23 Tulane, who are both undefeated in conference, and Central Florida, who Houston is tied with for third place in the American Athletic Conference at 2-1.
When the Cougars have the ball: Houston could see a familiar face in the backfield against the Bulls. Head coach Dana Holgorsen said running back Ta’Zhawn Henry, who underwent surgery in early October, will return at some point this season for the Cougars. It could be as soon as Saturday, Holgorsen stated. Henry is third on the team in rushing despite missing two games.
Regardless of who is in the backfield with Tune, the offensive line will play a pivotal role in the success of what Houston wants to do. Against Navy, the offensive line gave up only one sack in the entire contest and also managed to keep the penalties down. As a team, Houston committed only four penalties. Holgorsen complimented the offensive line on Monday for their strong performance against Navy.
Houston has had receivers KeSean Carter and Samuel Brown step up in the absence of Joseph Manjack IV and Matthew Golden, who are both dealing with injuries. Carter and Brown have been welcomed weapons for Houston.
Carter caught three passes for 62 yards against Navy, while Brown caught five for 33 yards and two touchdowns. Their production will be pivotal in the team continuing the offensive success it has seen since the fourth quarter against Memphis.
When USF has the ball: Both Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Doug Belk said the Bulls are a tougher team than their record indicates. Belk said that USF has battled through injuries, Hurricane Ian, and a difficult schedule. The Bulls lost starting quarterback Gerry Bohanon to a season-ending shoulder injury.
Sophomore quarterback Katravis Marsh will get the start against Houston. He is a 6-foot-5-inch, 230-pound dual-threat quarterback with a strong arm, Belk said. The Cougars will be focused on containing running back Brian Battie, who is the team’s leading rusher with 493 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the season.
“He’s one of the most dynamic guys at his positions in the country and one of the top players in our conference as far as all-purpose yards on a weekly basis,” Belk said on Battie.
Both Holgorsen and Belk said Houston is emphasizing special teams coverage on kickoffs against the Bulls. Battie hurt Houston on kickoffs in last year’s meeting. He had two 100-yard kickoff returns go for touchdowns and rushed for an additional score against the Cougars last season.
Key Cougars to watch: Houston quarterback Clayton Tune went off against Navy last week. He threw for 261 passing yards, five touchdowns, no interceptions, but he did have one fumble loss that was returned for a Midshipmen score.
Tune will be one player to keep an eye on to see if he can continue his stellar playing going back to the fourth quarter against Memphis. On the defensive side of the ball, defensive back Jayce Rogers continued making plays against Navy.
Rogers had a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown against Memphis. In Annapolis, Maryland, he had one interception against the Midshipmen and six total tackles.
The bottom line: Houston seems to be building positive momentum after its 2-3 start. The Cougars won back-to-back games for the first time this season. UH will seek to make it three in a row.