Houston Cougars linebacker Donavan Mutin during last Saturday’s game against SMU in Dallas. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)
Houston (5-4, 3-2 American Athletic) vs. Temple (3-6, 1-4 AAC)
Game time: 2:00 p.m. CT
TV/radio: ESPN+/KPRC 950 AM
What’s at stake: The Houston Cougars are looking to put the pitiful defensive performance against SMU in the rearview mirror.
“You got to just state the obvious,” Houston defensive coordinator Doug Belk said. “We got whooped from start to finish [against SMU]. It is my responsibility to get these guys going. You’ll never hear me get on here and blame our kids for what they did or didn’t do. We got to do a better job of coaching them.”
Houston will get an opportunity to do so against a freshman quarterback in E.J. Warner, the son of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner.
When the Cougars have the ball: UH’s offense continues to be on a hot streak. Despite losing to the Mustangs, Houston’s offense managed to score 63 points against SMU. Quarterback Clayton Tune threw seven touchdowns in the loss, and he also had one long rushing touchdown.
Houston welcomed back receiver Matthew Golden to the lineup on Saturday after he had missed two games with a rib injury. Golden tallied five catches for 105 yards and a touchdown against SMU.
“We are better with him out there,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said.
Receiver Nathaniel Dell led the Cougars with 13 catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver KeSean Carter continued his stellar play with eight catches for 136 yards and a touchdown of his own.
When Temple has the ball: Houston will be looking to create a lot of pressure defensively against Warner, which is going to be a tough task. The Owls are top 10 in the country in fewest sacks given up to opponents. Temple’s scheme allows Warner to get the ball out of his hands quickly, Belk said.
“It’s going to be tricky because one, we have to bounce back, but two, they are pretty dang good, and they are getting better,” Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “They got my attention, and we’ll make sure that they get our players’ attention.”
Warner is quick and accurate with his passes, Belk said. Additionally, another weapon to look out for against the Owls is running back Edward Saydee, who leads the team in rushing this season.
Saydee dominated against South Florida. He rushed for 265 yards and added an additional 69 yards through the passing game. He scored three touchdowns, including a 40-yard sprint to the end zone in the Owls’ rout of the Bulls.
“The first thing you got to do is you got to wrap the guy up and be physical at the point of attack because he is really good at yards after contact,” Belk said. “One of the best in our league, and then when he is in the open field, you got to be conscious of him at all times because he does a lot of different things well.”
Key Cougars to watch: Running back Stacy Sneed has put together a strong performance over the course of the last few weeks with Brandon Campbell and Ta’Zhawn Henry dealing with injuries throughout.
Sneed had only four carries in Houston’s shootout against SMU, but he still managed to put up 71 yards. Houston’s offensive line will also be a unit to watch as Temple is seventh in the nation when it comes to sacks, averaging over three a game. The offensive line will be tasked with protecting Tune and giving him time to find his receivers.
The bottom line: Belk said he told his defense they were knocked down against SMU but not knocked out. Saturday’s game will be key to see if the Cougars can get back up, dust themselves off, and continue to fight against the Owls.