The Houston Cougars did three surprising things on Saturday afternoon in Tampa. They won a game after losing two straight in disappointing fashion, defeated a ranked team and scored tons of points in the second half. The Cougars (5-3) defeated the No. 17 USF Bulls (7-1) 28-24 on Saturday on a 20-yard scamper by quarterback D’Eriq King with 11 seconds left in the game that finished a comeback that saw UH score 28 second half points.
The Cougars were shut down in the first half, scoring zero points and gaining less than 100 yards in offense. But the defense shut down USF and the Cougars trailed only 7-0 at the half. The Cougars were down 24-21 to USF after a Bulls field goal with 1:46 left on the clock. King’s 20-yard rush might have won the game, but the game-winning drive nearly died several plays earlier when the Cougars faced a 4th and 24 from their own 37 yard line before King was able to find Courtney Lark on a 30-yard pass to keep the drive alive.
Let’s start with UH scoring 28 points in the second half. That’s right, the Cougars scored 28 points in the second half. The UH offense has been noticeably absent from the second half of most games this season, but Saturday’s game was the exact opposite. The Cougars gained only 82 total yards in the first half and scored zero points. So the Cougars not only scored 28 points in the second half, the team also gained 315 yards. The biggest difference was from the rush game, which saw UH go from 37 yards on the ground in the first half to 255 yards.
The breakout star of the game was D’Eriq King, who saw significant action at quarterback, though Kyle Postma got the start for Houston. King, who has spent time at receiver and running back this season after coming back from an injury, appeared to bring a bit of the Greg Ward Jr. touch back to the UH offense, finding ways to bring the offense to life when it would otherwise be left for dead. King rushed 20 times for 120 yards, including two touchdowns, and he also threw a touchdown pass. King was aided in his efforts by running back Mulbah Car, who rushed 18 times for 141 yards and a touchdown.
It was also an outstanding game for the UH defense. The Bulls came into the game with one of the nation’s top running games and with a top-15 scoring offense. The Cougars held USF below its season scoring average, and shut down the UCF game, holding the Bulls to just 137 yards on the ground. The Cougars twice stopped USF on fourth down (with USF eschewing field goal attempts from makable distances both times). The Cougars also forced six three-and-outs.
With the win, the Cougars move to 5-3 on the season and are now just one win short of bowl eligibility.
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The UH offense has to put together a complete game this season — the good thing is that the offense took off in the second half this time. USF is a good team, but that UH was only able to get 82 yards in the first half has to be disappointing. The passing game is still not clicking, and switching back and forth between QBs during the game can’t help. That then raises the question of whether UH should go with King full-time as QB, whether the job is still Postma’s, or whether a timeshare arrangement will be the result.
The Cougars also suffered further injuries at the running back spot. Dillon Birden missed the game because of an elbow injury suffered in last week’s loss to Memphis. Duke Catalon injured his ankle during the game and gave way to Car, who had a breakout game. And left offensive tackle Josh Jones sprained his MCL.
Houston returns to play on Saturday, November 3, against ECU (2-6). The game will be at TDECU Stadium and is set for an 11 a.m. kickoff. The game will air on the CBS Sports Network for those of you unable to partake in Houston’s homecoming activities.