Houston Cougars football running back Stacy Sneed carries the ball during the team’s 42-27 win against South Florida on Oct. 29 at TDECU Stadium. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)
The Houston Cougars football team’s offense put up 42 points against the South Florida Bulls on Saturday. That bested the previous season-high put up by the team, which came just a week prior against Navy when the Cougars scored 38 against the Midshipmen.
Going back to Memphis, Houston has now scored 30 or more points in three straight games. It is no coincidence that it also coincides with Houston’s three-game winning streak.
“It all started with the Memphis game, and I feel like that was a huge confidence boost for us,” Houston quarterback Clayton Tune said postgame. “We felt like we had not been playing up to our standards up to that point and being able to find a way to win that game at the end was huge momentum for our offense.”
Houston was able to build on the success against Navy. This week against USF, they played as clean and as confident as they have all year, Tune said.
“I think that our offense has started to gel. It takes more than a quarterback,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I (felt) good coming into this game just because of the experience and senior leadership (from Tune). He’s playing at a high level, but we are starting to gel around him.”
Two key pieces who have risen the past three weeks are receivers Samuel Brown and KeSean Carter. Both made various plays against Memphis and Navy, and against USF, they continued to produce.
Carter caught seven passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. Brown caught six passes for 86 yards. In total, Tune threw the ball to eight different receivers, which highlights Holgorsen’s comment about the unit gelling.
One player that has been a constant all year long for Houston has been receiver Nathaniel “Tank” Dell, who was celebrating a birthday on Saturday as well. The Cougars not only commemorated by giving the Daytona Beach, Florida, native a win, but Dell also pulled in nine catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns, including a highlight reel 52-yard bomb by Tune that resulted in a touchdown.
“I’m really proud of that entire group,” Tune said. “We had our starting four in the beginning of the season, and we had some injuries forcing some guys to step up. Maybe they were ready, maybe they weren’t, but regardless, they stepped up and filled that void.”
Houston was missing receivers Joseph Manjack IV and Matthew Golden in Saturday’s game. Both are dealing with injuries. Running back Ta’Zhawn Henry was another player that missed Saturday’s game. He has missed each outing during the winning streak, but he is close to returning, Holgorsen said. However, Houston is not sure exactly when that will be.
In his absence, running back Stacy Sneed, the redshirt freshman, has put together back-to-back strong performances against Navy and South Florida. Last week in Maryland, he rushed for 100 yards. Against the Bulls, he rushed for 60 yards and scored two touchdowns. Entering the game, he had not scored a collegiate rushing touchdown in his career.
“Yeah, just next guy up,” Holgorsen said. “Sam Brown, a couple of weeks ago, KeSean, a couple of weeks ago. When Ta’Zhawn went down, (it was) Stacy Sneed’s turn. We knew (Sneed) had a switch. We knew we had the potential to get in there.”
Houston’s 42-27 win against USF bumped the Cougars to 3-1 against American Athletic Conference opponents. With No. 20 Cincinnati losing to Central Florida, 25-21, on Saturday, all three teams, including UH, are tied for second in the conference.
East Carolina, who Houston will face on Nov. 19, is just behind all three programs at 3-2. Tulane, who beat Houston in Week Five, sits atop the league at 4-0. The Green Wave were idle this past week.
While Houston’s big goal is to make it into the AAC Championship game on Dec. 3, the team is not looking too far ahead and is just focused on its next opponent, the Houston quarterback said.
“We know the scenarios, but it is a game-to-game mentality,” Tune said. “The scenario doesn’t matter if we don’t go out and do what we are supposed to do. We can’t afford to have another conference loss, and we know that so that’s why we’re taking each game one at a time. Control what we can control.”