Ed Oliver ends sack drought. Photo via Houston Cougar Football/Facebook
Houston 42, ECU 20
The Cougars went into Greenville, NC on Saturday still hot from their late game-winning rally vs Tulsa. Houston started with a typical up tempo Kendal Briles opening drive, where QB D’Eriq King threw to WR Courtney Lark for a 38-yard TD. The Cougar defense then held ECU to another three and out and gave the ball back to King, where he led his offense to the end zone after another long drive, and scored via rushing TD from the Pirate 8-yard line with 8 minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Houston defense showed up even bigger this game and continue to show that they are peaking at the right time. LB Emeke Egbule intercepted a batted pass from ECU’s QB Reid Herring, which was converted into another TD throw from King and resulted in the Cougars leading 21-3 at the half.
ECU drove to the Houston 16 on their second half opening possession, but were halted by the Cougar defense yet again, and were forced to kick a field goal cutting the difference to 21-6. Houston’s Heisman candidate Ed Oliver finally ended his 2018 sack drought in a pivotal manner by forcing ECU to fumble the football in their own territory, only to be picked up by Egbule and run in for a defensive touchdown, which resulted in a 28-6 lead with 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter. The offense continued to pile on with two more touchdowns, one being a flashy trick play passing TD from QB Bryson Smith to WR Keith Korbin, leading the Cougars to a score of 42-6 with 11 minutes left in the game. Much of the fourth quarter saw the second string Houston defense, which allowed ECU to score 14 points in garbage time.
The Houston defense yet again proves that they are able to force turnovers in the right moments. They intercepted the ball three times and forced a fumble. Egbule had another outstanding game, with an INT and fumble recovery for a touchdown. Oliver also had another monster game with five tackles for loss and two sacks. The offense is very effective because of this one overlooked component, the offensive line, who has only allowed one sack and 19 tackles for loss through five games, ranking them fifth nationally. ECU drops to 2-4 and will play the 19-0 UCF Golden Knights. Houston improves to 5-1 and travels to Annapolis, MD this week to face a 2-4 Navy team. UH is now in control of their own destiny and keep their AAC championship title hopes alive.
Houston is ranked second in the nation in total offense with 582 yards per game.
Ed Oliver leads all defensive linemen in the nation with 8 tackles per game, despite being double and triple teamed.
King went 13 of 23, threw for 209 passing yards, and had three total TDs.
UCF 31, Memphis 30
Two of the most compelling offenses in the AAC went at it in rainy Memphis on Saturday, both who possess Heisman hopefuls in Tigers’ RB Darrell Henderson, and the No. 10 ranked Golden Knights’ QB McKenzie Milton. This game had upset written all over it from the beginning. The Memphis offense dominated UCF throughout the first half by scoring 31 points, against UCF’s 17. But the UCF defense adjusted so well, that they shut out the Memphis explosive offense in the entire second half. McKenzie Milton displayed his Heisman quality athleticism as he went airborne for what was the game winning TD, finishing a 14-point comeback with 12 minutes left in the clock. Do not be fooled, much of this game was attributed to the rain and its impacts on the passing game, where UCF went 2 for 12 in third down efficiency. Memphis is a tough opponent, especially at home and with a workhorse like Henderson, who finished with 31 carries, 199 rushing yards, and 1 TD. They even had a valiant effort in attempting a comeback to try and set up a game winning field goal, but the Tigers ran out of time as the final catch wasn’t taken out of bounds to stop the clock. In the end, Milton came through for the Golden Knights by going 17 of 29, with 296 passing yards, and 1 TD, leading his team to an unbeaten 19-0 streak. Memphis falls to 4-3 on the season and will face Missouri next. While UCF will head to Greenville, NC and face a not so impressive ECU team.
USF 25, Tulsa 24
No. 23 USF climbed in the rankings two spots after their close win in Oklahoma. The Bulls uncharacteristically struggled offensively vs Tulsa. Golden Hurricane QB Seth Boomer had an awful day vs the USF defense, where he went 6 of 21, had 79 passing yards, 0 INT, and 1 TD. USF had difficulty taking advantage of the weak opposing quarterback play until the fourth quarter, where QB Blake Barnett began to set up what would be a clutch comeback win. Barnett took matters in his own hands by driving in two rushing TDs, but failing to convert a game tying 2-point conversion with two minutes left on the clock. USF got the football back with 48 seconds left, where Barnett once again showed how USF is an offense capable of exploding at a moment’s notice. He made a couple of long throws down the field that set up a chip shot, game winning, 22-yard field goal. USF remains perfect and improves to 6-0, while Tulsa continues to lose control in the 4th quarter, dropping to a record of 1-5. USF will play a weak UConn team next.
Other AAC Results
Temple 24, Navy 17
Teams on BYE week
#20 Cincinnati (Prior rank #25), Tulane, SMU, UConn
Stats available via UH Cougar Football.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.