The Houston Cougars football team comes out of its tunnel at TDECU Stadium before their game against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2022 season. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)
The Houston Cougars football team is exactly at its midpoint in the season. Their bye week came after the first six games of the year, and they have six regular season games left.
Houston is aiming to make a strong run in the remaining portion of the schedule after an inconsistent first half of the season that has the Cougars at a .500 record. While the bye week meant no game for UH, it did not mean it was an off week for the coaches and players.
“(The) bye week is not an off week,” Houston defensive coordinator Doug Belk said. “What can we get better at? What things can we focus on… Most of all, we focused on what we needed to do to get better and for each guy, it was a little bit different.”
Houston still had practice last week, head coach Dana Holgorsen said. The coaches got an early jump on preparing for Navy and their unique option offense, and they were also able to get out and recruit, he said.
Various Houston players did their own thing at the bye when they were outside of practice. Quarterback Clayton Tune reflected on how the first six games went. He dissected what he and the team could have done better during the first six games of the season, he said.
He also watched a lot of games during the weekend, including those featuring Houston’s American Athletic Conference opponents, he said. Linebacker Donavan Mutin took advantage of the downtime not needing to prepare for a specific opponent by focusing on his body.
He did a lot of training room stuff, stretching his muscles, hamstring maintenance and got into the team’s hot and cold tubs, Mutin said. He also attacked his lifts since he didn’t need to worry about being too sore for a game.
He finished up his assignments for class and then worked ahead on others, Mutin said. He also had some time to catch up and advance in playing Assassin’s Creed, a video game that is set in the 1400s. Mutin got to Italy and was able to find Leonardo da Vinci in the game, he said.
Others couldn’t wait for the bye week to end. Defensive lineman Atlias Bell used the bye week to watch other football games, and he got mentally prepared for the second half of the season.
“For me, I was ready,” Bell said. “I didn’t really need a bye week. I was ready to keep playing.”
Holgorsen, Belk and the rest of the coaching staff took the time to relay a message to the team, the defensive coordinator said on Tuesday. Some players had individual meetings and overall, the team focused on items like fundamentals and situational football, such as red zone execution, two-minute execution and third down situations.
The Cougars have been in late-game scenarios in almost every game this season. Five of Houston’s first six games have gotten down to the final play of the game needing a stop from the defense or a drive by the offense.
Houston struggled against Texas Tech and Tulane in those game-clinching scenarios. Against Rice, it was not pretty but they were able to hold on and keep the Owls from pulling off an improbable comeback. Against Memphis, Houston overcame a 19-point deficit and sealed the win with a sack by Bell.
With six regular season games remaining, Houston wants to eliminate the inconsistency and put together a run that lifts them into the AAC Championship game on Dec. 3. The Cougars are currently in 7th place in the conference, but tied with four other schools that are also sitting at .500.
Houston is only one game behind Cincinnati and Central Florida for second place in the conference. Both of them are 2-0 in conference play. Tulane currently sits atop the conference with a 3-0 record. The Green Wave also hold the tiebreaker over the Cougars as they defeated Houston in the conference opener.
The Cougars will not play Cincinnati or UCF this season. Tulane, UCF and Cincinnati will all play against each other down the stretch.
“We’ve done well in different phases of the game in different games, but we got to continue to put those things together and play complete games as a team, and that is kind of what the focus (was),” Belk said.