Houston Cougars football quarterback Clayton Tune rushes through the South Florida defense on Oct. 29 at TDECU Stadium. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)
The Houston Cougars football team is riding high on a three-game winning streak but will face a tough task on Saturday when it travels to Dallas to face Southern Methodist University.
Despite the inconsistent 2-3 start to the season, including a heartbreaking loss to Tulane in the conference opener, the Cougars find themselves in a three-way tie with Cincinnati and Central Florida for second place in the American Athletic Conference, and more importantly, the final spot in the AAC Championship game.
While there are still four games remaining in the season, Houston has been able to salvage what could have been a tailspin freefall following the loss to the Green Wave, who sit at the top of the conference with a spotless 4-0 conference record.
The Cougars found themselves with a 19–point deficit in the fourth quarter against Memphis, and from that point onward, have done a complete 180-degree turn to insert themselves into the conference championship picture.
A big factor in the Cougars’ turnaround this season has been the senior leadership on the team. Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen on Monday said with all the adversity the team has had to handle, from brutal last-second losses to a plethora of injuries, having the veteran presence in the locker room has helped keep the team steady.
“With everything that has happened this year, with as much injuries and just close games and all that stuff, you better have some good senior leadership to hold things together,” Holgorsen said. “I think that is a big reason why we have won the last three.”
Having guys like defensive back Thabo Mwaniki step in and be the player of the game against South Florida, receiver KeSean Carter producing at a high level over the course of the last three games and defensive lineman Jamykal Neal playing his tail off is an example of seniors that have helped shift the tide for Houston, Holgorsen said.
Houston quarterback Clayton Tune said the biggest reason to the team’s three-game winning streak was everybody accepting their roles and doing their job. A message that was relayed by the coaches in the midst of the struggles to the team’s captains.
Following the team’s most recent win against South Florida, Tune said everyone also bought into needing to play their roles with a sense of urgency.
While the Houston Cougars football team knows it is right in the middle of the race for the top spot in the AAC, the same leaders will be tasked with making sure the team does not begin to look ahead and get caught up in the scenarios.
“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.”
Around the American
Tune was once again named the league’s offensive player of the week for his performance against USF (1-7, 0-4 AAC). Tune went 31-of-37 for 380 passing yards and four passing touchdowns in the win.
Tune became the first player in conference history to finish a game with at least 30 completions, 300 passing yards, four touchdown passes and an 80% completion percentage.
UCF defensive end Josh Celiscar was named the AAC defensive player of the week for his role in helping the Knights (6-2, 3-1 AAC) hold Cincinnati (6-2, 3-1 AAC) to 21 points and just 333 yards of total offense. Celiscar had five solo tackles and a sack in the 25-21 win.
Across the rest of the league, East Carolina (6-3, 3-2 AAC) traveled to Provo, Utah, and defeated BYU in a nonconference game, 27-24. SMU (4-4, 2-2 AAC) bested Tulsa (3-5, 1-3 AAC), 45-34. Navy (3-5, 3-3 AAC) beat Temple (2-6, 0-4 AAC), 27-20.