The Houston Cougars don't focus on the big picture. They're not looking at having three games left in the season, or two games left in conference. They're not focusing on bowl eligibility. All that matters is Saturday night and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (6-3) for the Cougars concern themselves with only thing, and that's being 1-0 after one game.
That's one of the approaches the Cougars have been taking since losing Case Keenum for the season -- the other is focusing on their game and not the other team. But this week they're playing Tulsa. And Tulsa, an offensive powerhouse on par with the Cougars, has been on fire lately.
Tulsa has put together three straight wins, and in those three games, Tulsa is averaging 40 points and 500 yards a game, including putting up 64 points and over 600 yards on a Rice squad that was defeated before it hit the field. The Tulsa offense has put up over 40 points in five of their nine games this season, and the offense has surpassed 500 total yards five times this season.
"We both average 40 points a game, and they're extremely explosive and have been able to -- really, the last three or four weeks they're over 500 yards and 40 points a game," Cougars coach Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday. "We've got to be able -- they've got to have a plan to stop us, too. We've got to be able to handle things, they've got an explosive trio of receivers, and they're going to formation you and try to get you in some mismatches, and they do a great job of coaching, and they get the ball to their playmakers."
Unlike Houston, which has problems on the defensive side of the ball, Tulsa's defense has showed improvement this season. They have C-USA's number-four scoring defense and the number-three rushing defense. Luckily for Houston, Tulsa does have a bit of a problem with passing offenses, as they've got the 12th-ranked defense in C-USA when it comes to stopping the passing game. Then again, as the Cougars showed last season, when the offense is putting up 40 points a game, a defense that surrenders an average of 27 points a game is more than adequate.
"We just need to stay disciplined, stay in our pass rush lane," says nose guard Matangi Tonga regarding handling the Tulsa offense. "We need to keep containment this week because the quarterback can really run. We've just got to execute the game plan we have."
If there was a bright spot in the Cougars' defense last week, it was the play of Tonga. Tonga had missed the past several games because of a knee injury, and it wasn't even known until game day if he would be able to go against UCF. But go he did, and he put together one of those quiet, unnoticed games that are the trademark of a good nose guard.
"What kind of guy will get up in the morning and look forward to going out in the afternoon for two hours and get double teamed all day, and at best, you do a good job if you just hold up against 600 pounds and not get moved back," Sumlin says. "Nobody ever says -- coaches say 'great job' -- but nobody even knows you played."
But the better Tonga plays the better the Cougar defense plays, because it's his play that frees up the rest of the defensive line to hopefully cause havoc and get to the quarterback. And with a quarterback like Tulsa's G.J. Kinne, havoc needs to be caused.
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Sumlin says Tonga put together a good game last week, especially for a guy who had missed as much time as he had with injury. And Tonga feels he held up while for his condition, and he says his knee held up fine and he's ready for more.
"I really was sore," Tonga said. "My knee was throbbing. It's just my body wasn't used to going through a game. I wasn't in game shape. But I think my knee held up pretty good. The coaches did a job of giving me some rest, and stuff like that. And overall, I think I did pretty good. And after, it was really sore, but I came for treatment and everything's good right now."
For the Cougars to have a chance at victory tomorrow night, then everything will have to be fine with Tonga and the entire defense. But if they can just throw up a few speed bumps in the way of the Tulsa offense, just slow them a bit, then the Cougar offense might be able to inflict enough damage to get the win.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES: Speaking of injured defensive players, senior linebacker's Matt Nicholson career with the Cougars is over. He is undergoing season-ending surgery on the knee he injured against UCF last week...This is Houston's homecoming game, the 65th in team history. They're 32-27-5 on homecoming day, and they're 5-1 against Tulsa on homecoming day....The game will be televised on CBS College Sports, starting at 7 p.m. Next Saturday's game, at Southern Mississippi, will also be televised on CBS College Sports, and the game time has been changed to 7 p.m.