THE AAC REPORT

The UH/AAC Report: rough week for some, cruise control for others

The UH/AAC Report: rough week for some, cruise control for others

As the AAC enters week two of the season, we start to see who's who. Some teams are challenged in ways others aren't by playing Power 5 schools. Others smash Group of 5 weaklings and continue to roll. When conference play starts, all that goes out the window. This week will see more tests and cupcakes for AAC teams.

UH outlasts PVU

The Cougars won 37-17 over a team they should've hung at least 50 or more on. The margin of victory should've been at least 30 or more. A team who fancies themselves as an offensive juggernaut has to do more against a much lesser opponent. The 24 points they scored in the first quarter was great, especially giving up only 3 points. But being outscored 14 to 13 in the remaining three quarters is awful. The Cougars are going to have to make some serious adjustments if they plan on being taken serious in Dana Holgorsen's first season as head coach.

Other key results

UCF 48, FAU 14: The Golden Knights continue to roll with an easy win over the fighting Lane Kiffins. Another 500+ yards of offense despite a -11 minute disadvantage in time of possession.

Auburn 24, Tulane 6: Holding a top 10 team under 30 points in a loss is considered a moral victory in my book. Coach Fritz continues to improve the Green Wave as they're a team to watch.

Memphis 55, Southern 24:The Tigers of Memphis are on a roll despite losing some NFL talent the last couple years. Southern gave them a bit of a fight, but they managed an easy win anyway.

Stars of the week

Xavier Jones, RB, SMU: Jones had 16 carries for 127 yards and three touchdowns in their 49-27 win over North Texas. The Mustangs are a passing team, but if the run game can produce like this, look out.

Gabriel Davis, WR, UCF: Although he ddin't have a touchdown catch, I think Davis is showing some NFL potential. Three catches for 98 yards is impressive when you see his 6'3 212lb frame going against college defensive backs.

Darius Pinnix Jr, RB, ECU: the 6'0 234lb bowling ball totaled 134 yards and a touchdown in a 48-9 win over Gardner-Webb. He's another NFL-sized guy going against smallish defenders and making it count.

5 games to watch this week

Houston vs Washington State

UCF vs Stanford

Temple vs Maryland

Tulsa vs Oklahoma State

ECU vs Navy

3 players to watch this week

D'Eriq King, Houston: Two pooor performances to start the season is uncharacteristic. Despite coming off ACL surgery, he should be showing better.

Gabriel Davis, UCF: Seeing him go against Power 5 defensive backs will be interesting. This whole offense should be watched to see how they'll perform.

Justin McMillan, Tulane: Coming off a loss to Auburn, Missouri State shouldn't provide much of a challenge for the Cedar Hill native.

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The Coogs are back in action Friday night. Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images.

Jamal Shead wasn’t anywhere near the player he is now when he joined the Houston Cougars in 2020. His coach offers an unvarnished opinion about his talented guard.

“When he came in, I thought he was a long way away,” coach Kelvin Sampson said. “I thought his immaturity was an issue. His day-to-day practice habits were an issue.”

Four years later, the 21-year-old Shead barely resembles that freshman player, and his leadership and defensive tenacity has the second-ranked Cougars heading into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed for a second straight season.

Shead, who was named a first-team AP All-American on Tuesday, will lead Houston (30-4) in the first round of the tournament Friday night against 16-seed Longwood. The Cougars are in the tournament for a school-record sixth straight season.

Sampson reflected on Shead’s journey this week after he received his latest accolade in a season where he’s already become the first player in Big 12 history to win player of the year and defensive player of the year honors the same year. Sampson said Shead's parents didn't baby him even during those freshman struggles.

“He didn’t have anybody to call home and cry to or to listen to excuses,” Sampson said. “That was never going to be an issue. His mom and dad are unusual in that they say the coach is always right. They knew he needed the culture that we’ve established here.”

So, with the help of Houston’s veterans, Shead began to develop and by January of his first season things started to click for him. By February, he started challenging the veterans or as Sampson recalls: “kicking their butts in practice some days.”

“I think our program raised that kid from being a kid to being a man and this is the end result,” Sampson said. “I think it is a great story in that when things were really tough for him, he didn’t quit, he didn’t transfer.”

Shead admitted that dealing with Sampson’s strong coaching style took a while to adjust to and he still remembers a colorful one-liner he used to call him soft back in his early days on the team.

Now that he’s grown into the team’s leader, he appreciates how Sampson coached him.

“He has the utmost belief in you and the utmost trust in you when you earn it. And he never wavers with that,” Shead said. “That guy has trusted me since Day 1. He’s taught me so much. He might get on me the hardest, but I know it’s out of love. I know he loves me, so I never take it personally.”

Shead has a wealth of tournament experience after reaching the Final Four as a reserve as a freshman. He moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore when the Cougars advanced to the Elite Eight and won American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year honors last season when Houston made it to the Sweet 16.

He leads the Cougars this season by averaging 13.1 points a game and averages 6.2 assists and 2.3 steals. He has scored in double figures in 25 games this season, including 11 of the last 12.

He’s confident that Houston is ready for a deep tournament run.

“Coach says it all the time, he doesn’t compare teams, so I don’t really try to,” he said. “But I think this team is prepared because of our mindset right now, our preparation is always good because we have the best coach in America and probably the best coaching staff in America. So, our preparation is always going to be good because they’re going to have us ready … it’s all about who’s going to be the toughest and I think we’ll be one of the toughest teams out there.”

The biggest factor in that toughness is the team’s defense, which is led by Shead. Houston leads the nation in holding teams to just 57 points a game.

“Our defense is our defense,” Shead said. “We’re No. 1 in the nation. We take pride in that. We turn you over, cool. But we’re going to try to make you miss. We’re going to make it as hard as possible every possession.”

And the coach who once thought Shead was a “long way away” from contributing to his team, now revels at the player he has become.

“The three things Jamal learned to control was Jamal and then his attitude and then his effort,” Sampson said. “When those three things became his strength, he became the best defensive guard I’ve ever coached and the greatest leader I’ve ever coached.”

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