Nobody needs to tell the Houston Cougars that they messed up last Saturday. They're well aware of that fact on their own.
But they're now trying to forget about what happened last week while they attempt to do the most important thing in the world: concentrate on Saturday's game against Memphis.
"All our focus right now is on Memphis and what we need to do to win this game," head coach Kevin Sumlin said at Tuesday's media luncheon. "We're happy to be home for our last two regular season games."
The Tigers are 2-8 (1-5) on the season, and they're being led by lame-duck head coach Tommy West who was fired several weeks ago but is finishing out the season. When he was fired, Memphis allowed West to speak to the press, and he went off, begging the school to kill the football program (The school's lone conference win is against UTEP, the school that gave the Cougars their first loss this season.)
That said, Sumlin is afraid of the Memphis running game, specifically running back Curtis Steele who Sumlin calls one of the best backs in C-USA. This season, Steele is average 5.6 yards a rush for a total of 847 yards on 151 attempts.
And seeing as how the Cougars generally have problems against the run, Sumlin's probably right to be a little worried. "We need to concern ourselves with us and our level of play...." he said. "We need to get better in these next two weeks and worry about the games that are in front of us; then see what happens. There's still a lot of football to play and who knows what's going to happen. We can't be concerned with speculating or worrying about what other people do. We have to worry about the games that we play and winning those games, then we'll see what happens. That's where we are, that's what our focus is and that's where we're headed."
The players seem to agree, and they said the right things on Tuesday. "We have to concern ourselves with the next game," QB Case Keenum said. "Things tend to have a way working out. At the end of the season it seems like everything goes crazy and a lot of situations are possible. We just have to worry about ourselves."
That was echoed by receiver Tyron Carrier. "You can't worry about what other people are going to do. We can only worry about ourselves. We need to focus on the next game."
But while focusing on the next game, they have to remember some of the lessons supposedly taught by the UCF loss. Like how to finish the kill. And how to be careful with the football.
"Obviously, we're not happy with the events, everything that took place and the performance of last weekend," Sumlin said. "We had a chance early in the game to take control of it, but we did not do that. We turned the ball over twice and didn't do things that we needed to do offensively to take control of the game in the first half. We didn't do the things we needed to do defensively in the second half to win the game."
Keenum for one, thinks he learns more from losses than he does from wins. And linebacker Marcus McGraw says that the team has to draw off the positives from that game while not dwelling on the negatives. And defensive back Brandon Brinkley thinks the team needs to bring the energy to this game that they didn't bring last week, while finishing up on the plays.
"We have to play with the same energy as we have been playing with and make the plays," Brinkley said. "We didn't do that last game."
The team is in a tough position now. A position that may not allow them to win the C-USA West Division, which was their preseason goal.
"It's put us in a tough position conference-wise..." McGraw said. "It was in our hands and we have let it slip away. We put ourselves in this situation with the early conference lost to UTEP."
But unlike with the UTEP loss, the Cougars don't have a lot of games in which to make up the deficit, and they are dependent on help from teams in the conference.
Which is why everybody is in agreement on just focusing on defeating Memphis this week and Rice next week. If they win, things may finish in their favor, but if they slip up and lose again, then they'll probably be out of luck, no matter what anybody else in the conference does.
It didn't have to be this way. But that's the way it is.
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