Houston Cougars hope win against Memphis propels team into home-stretch of the season

Houston Cougars defensive lineman Atlias Bell celebrates against Memphis. He record the final sack of the game against the Tigers that sealed the win for the Cougars. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)

Houston Cougars hope win against Memphis propels team into home-stretch of the season

The Houston Cougars football team pulled off an improbable comeback against Memphis on Oct. 7 before heading into its bye week.

Houston was on the verge of falling to 2-4 and 0-2 against the American Athletic Conference until the comeback. Behind a 26-point fourth quarter, the Cougars rallied and left the Tigers stunned. Now heading into the final six games of the season, UH hopes the victory can serve as a spark to end the year on a strong note.

“It was really big for (confidence),” linebacker Donavan Mutin said. “We have confidence in who we are, and we’ve had confidence in the team that we thought we were going to be going into the year. Ups and downs came but making sure that we realized that we are still that team, that win helped us do that. We are still that team.”

The win gave Houston the chance to go into the bye week and come out and flip the season, Mutin said. The Cougars have been in high-pressure games a lot this season. Houston has been in three overtime games, and five of its games have come down to the final play with the game in the balance.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen said Houston could be 5-1 and just as easily 1-5, depending on how the ball bounced in those games. The Cougars’ execution against the Tigers is something they hope to bottle up and keep the momentum going.

Two players on the offensive side of the ball that stepped up for Houston were receiver Samuel Brown and KeSean Carter. Brown caught nine passes for 116 yards against the Tigers, and Carter caught four passes for 36 yards and two touchdowns versus Memphis, both of which came in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead score.

“Those guys are going to be vital,” Holgorsen said. “We don’t have a whole lot of bodies left, so with them two plus Tank (Nathaniel Dell) and Christian (Trahan), those are kind of the guys we are going to have to roll with right now.”

Houston will be without receivers Joseph Manjack and Matthew Golden against Navy. Manjack is dealing with a hand injury that has held him out multiple games, and Golden is dealing with a rib injury, Holgorsen said.

Brown and Carter had their best practices last week, Holgorsen stated. Not only did the game give them confidence, but it also gave quarterback Clayton Tune confidence in them, the head coach added.

“Both of those guys answered the call when their number was called and made a lot of good catches and run after catch and made my job easy,” Tune said. “So, I was really happy with how they played and the confidence they played with.”

The defense also ended the Memphis game on a high note that it hopes will propel it into the home stretch of the year. Defensive lineman Atlias Bell not only ended the game with a sack that extinguished any possibility of a comeback by the Tigers, but Houston also managed to hold Memphis to 18 points in the second, third and fourth quarters combined after allowing 14 in the first.

“One of the best feelings that we have been able to have all year, obviously,” defensive coordinator Doug Belk said.

“I thought we did a good job of stopping those guys when they were in the red zone. (It was) the difference in the game for us defensively. I think they were one-of-six in the red area (when it comes to scoring touchdowns).”

Memphis was one-of-five in red-zone possessions ending in touchdowns. Belk said that holding Memphis to only field goals after the first quarter was huge for Houston. It has been an emphasis from the coaching staff all season long. There was no panic from the players or coaches after the early deficit, he added.

“It just felt good to just finally finish it and just get the W at the end of the game,” Bell said. “Even coming back, just made it so much more special that we came back and kept fighting til the end.”

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