Nov 11, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; East Carolina Pirates head coach Mike Houston during the second half against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

East Carolina looks for bounce-back win over Houston

Houston and East Carolina already are bowl-eligible, but there is still plenty to be decided when the teams meet Saturday in an American Athletic Conference game in Greenville, N.C.

The Pirates (6-4, 3-3 AAC) will head home after a 27-25, close-but-no-cigar loss at Cincinnati on Friday that snapped their three-game winning streak. The setback also eliminated the Pirates in the conference championship race.

The Cougars (6-4, 4-2) are still mathematically alive for a berth in the AAC championship game but will have to win out and get a lot of help.

East Carolina outplayed Cincinnati last week, amassing more yards (454-310) and winning the time-of-possession battle (36:43 to 23:17). ECU also did not commit a turnover.

The Pirates limited Cincinnati to 66 yards on the ground but were victimized by two long scoring passes (55 and 76 yards). East Carolina also allowed a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

“You just can’t give up those explosive plays and the kickoff return,” East Carolina coach Mike Houston said. “That’s it. That’s the ballgame right there. If we make those plays, make a tackle on the kickoff return, it’s a different ballgame.”

East Carolina took a 25-24 lead late in the third quarter, only to see Cincinnati produce the game-winning field goal from 21 yards out with 9:42 to play.

“The way the kids battled back in the second half, got the lead — we just need to be able to finish it off there at the end,” Houston said.

The Pirates’ four losses this season are by a combined 21 points, 15 of which came in a defeat at Tulane on Oct. 8.

The Cougars came from behind to beat Temple 43-36 at home last week, bouncing back after a 77-63 loss at SMU and winning their fourth game in its past five outings.

Quarterback Clayton Tune hit Matthew Golden with a 44-yard TD pass with 40 seconds to play to cap the comeback. Tune finished with 318 total yards (289 passing, 29 rushing) and four touchdowns — three through the air.

Stacy Sneed ran for 143 yards in the win, rushing for at least 100 yards for the second time in the past four games.

“There’s been times this season when the defense has been good, times when the offense has been good, and there’s been times when the special teams has been good — and then there’s been times where all three sides stink,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We don’t quit, so I commend our coaches and our players for just attacking it and not quitting.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2022; Annapolis, Maryland, USA;  Houston Cougars quarterback Clayton Tune (3) throws a sNavy Midshipmen linebacker Jianni Woodson-Brooks (52) drops in overage at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Houston faces Temple with all signs pointing to a shootout

It would be easy to criticize Houston’s defense following last week’s 77-63 loss to SMU.

But Cougars coach Dana Holgorsen took the opposite approach.

“The key is moving forward,” Holgorsen said. “They played well. That’s the greatest single quarterback performance I’ve seen in a long time.”

As the Cougars (5-4, 3-2 AAC) prepare to host Temple (3-6, 1-4) on Saturday in an American Athletic Conference game, most questions in Holgorsen’s weekly press conference were directed toward the performance of Houston’s defense in the prior game.

SMU scored on its first nine drives and 11 of 12 overall.

Quarterback Tanner Mordecai threw nine touchdown passes for the Mustangs in the highest-scoring regulation game in FBS history.

“I don’t think that’s who we are defensively,” Holgorsen said. “Our guys competed. If I was looking at a defense that loafed and was not playing with effort and not competing, we’d have a real problem. It wasn’t that.”

Houston’s goal now is to quickly erase those bad memories.

“Better do it quick,” Holgorsen said. “Got a hot Temple coming in. We can’t overlook this one. They’ve got my attention. And we’ll make sure they get our players’ attention as well.”

On a positive note, Houston quarterback Clayton Tune threw for 527 yards and seven touchdowns. He also rushed for 111 yards and a score.

Temple, meanwhile, will look to build on its momentum following a 54-28 victory over South Florida. The Owls were dominant on both sides of the ball and didn’t record one punt for the first time in program history.

“Let’s see if we can keep this thing going,” Temple coach Stan Drayton said.

Running back Edward Saydee set career highs in rushing yards (265) and rushing touchdowns with three. He compiled 334 all-purpose yards, and quarterback E.J. Warner passed for a career-best 344 yards for the first 300-plus yard effort of his career.

“The beauty of explosive plays means there are players that are playing hard without the ball in their hand,” Drayton said.

To continue that trend, those habits must continue to be developed during the week.

“It’s not just gonna show up,” Drayton said. “We’ve got to continue to put the work in.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2022; Annapolis, Maryland, USA;  Houston Cougars quarterback Clayton Tune (3) check the play at line during the second half against the Navy Midshipmen at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Houston tries to remain competitive in AAC, visits SMU

Houston will be looking to remain in the picture for a conference title when it travels up I-45 to play longtime rival SMU on Saturday in an American Athletic Conference game in Dallas.

The Cougars (5-3, 3-1 AAC) and Mustangs (4-4, 2-2) won their most recent outings last Saturday, with Houston beating South Florida 42-27 and SMU producing a 45-34 win at Tulsa.

Houston has won three straight games following a 27-24 home overtime loss to Tulane in its conference opener on Sept. 30 and remains tied with UCF and Cincinnati for second place in the AAC standings.

“This is huge game — we know it’s a big game, they know it’s a big game,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Throw the records out — it’s gonna be hard. It’ll be tough. We’re all playing for a lot. We’ve got to prepare better this week than we did last week.”

Quarterback Clayton Tune passed for 380 yards and four touchdowns in the Cougars’ victory over South Florida, setting a single-game career-high 83.7 completion percentage.

In his past three games, Tune has racked up 88 completions for 1,007 passing yards and 12 touchdowns. He also recorded four-plus touchdowns in a game for the fifth time in his career, doing so in each of the last two games.

SMU amassed 468 yards of total offense against Tulsa last week. The Mustangs were boosted by a 75-yard TD pass from Preston Stone to Rashee Rice on their first play from scrimmage, and running back Tyler Lavine ran for 72 yards and three TDs.

The Mustangs, who have two wins in their past three games, have to capture two of the next four games in order to be bowl eligible.

“Our guys have been so resilient,” SMU coach Rhett Lashlee said. “We talk about all the injuries, all the guys that are out, all the close losses, and they just don’t quit. They don’t flinch.”

The Mustangs expect to have starting quarterback Tanner Mordecai back after he missed the Tulsa game while in concussion protocol. Stone, Mordecai’s much ballyhooed backup, broke his collarbone in the win last week and will be out for the rest of the season.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2022; Annapolis, Maryland, USA;  Houston Cougars head coach Dana Holgorsen during the first half against the Navy Midshipmen at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Houston aiming for another win against struggling USF

Houston needs a victory to stay in the American Athletic Conference race while visiting South Florida is looking for something positive as the two sides head into a Saturday afternoon meeting.

The Cougars (4-3, 2-1 AAC) trail Tulane and Cincinnati in the standings and are currently tied with UCF for third place. Their lone league loss was to Tulane, and they do not play either Cincinnati or UCF in the regular season.

Houston coach Dana Holgorsen describes his team’s mental outlook as “disappointed” but not “down.”

“We’ve been in some bad spots because of some close losses,” Holgorsen said. “But I never felt like we lost the team or the pulse wasn’t there or the work ethic wasn’t there, the practices weren’t there. I haven’t felt that.”

Clayton Tune has been one of the more productive passers in the league with an average of just over 261 yards a game, and Nathaniel Dell is one of the top receivers with 51 receptions for 627 yards and eight touchdown catches, which is tied for the most in the AAC.

Holgorsen, however, is concerned with his team’s kickoffs. He called both the kicks and the coverage “sporadic” and noted that USF’s Brian Battie had two 100-yard kickoff returns in last year’s meeting. Battie is back and joined by Jimmy Horn Jr., who has an 89-yard touchdown return this season.

“Two dudes back there that are dangerous,” Holgerson said.

The Bulls (1-6, 0-3) are coming off an open date following a 45-31 setback to Tulane and will be without starting quarterback Gerry Bohanon Jr. the rest of the season after his shoulder surgery. Veteran Katravis Marsh (11-of-26 passing, 198 yards) will get the start.

Coach Jeff Scott is challenging his Bulls to finish strong.

“The first seven games are part of our story for this season,” Scott said. “But it doesn’t have to be ‘the’ story of our season if we finish the right way.”

Houston has won six straight in the all-time series.

–Field Level Media

Sep 30, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA;  Houston Cougars quarterback Clayton Tune (3) in action during the first quarter against the Tulane Green Wave at TDECU Stadium in Houston, Texas. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Riding momentum from fourth-quarter comeback, Houston faces Navy

Coming off a massive comeback in its last game, Houston will try to make it two straight road wins in conference when it faces Navy on Saturday in Annapolis, Md.

Houston (3-3, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) trailed Memphis 26-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter of its last game Oct. 7, but thanks to Jayce Rogers’ 100-yard kick return touchdown and three passing touchdowns from Clayton Tune, the Cougars stormed back for a 33-32 road win.

Tune’s 2-yard pass to KeSean Carter with 18 seconds left was the game-winner.

Coach Dana Holgorsen had hinted before the Memphis game that Houston wanted to get more aggressive on offense, and it produced points with an up-tempo style late in that contest. But he hesitated to commit to more of that style.

“We’ve won a lot of games around here with controlling the ball, controlling the clock, keeping our defense fresh, keeping them off the field, not putting them in bad situations,” Holgorsen said Monday. “I’m not gonna stop doing that just for the sake of people wanting to see an up-tempo offense. … If we’re sputtering doing what we’re doing, then that’s an opportunity to be able to pick things up.”

Navy (2-4, 2-2) came close to a fourth-quarter rally of its own last Friday, but it wasn’t enough to stop host SMU from securing a 40-34 win.

The Midshipmen scored 20 points on three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, drawing within six points in the final nine seconds, but they couldn’t recover an onside kick. SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai burned Navy for 336 yards and three touchdowns.

Navy still gained a season-high 510 yards, including 372 on 77 rushing attempts.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been involved with a game like that,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We had 101 plays, we had the ball for over 40 minutes, rushed for 370, over 30 points but I feel like we should’ve had 50. It’s just tough. … 80 percent of the time we play good on defense, but we can’t give up big plays.”

Houston has won each of the last two meetings with Navy and leads the all-time series 6-2.

–Field Level Media

Oct 9, 2022; Jacksonville, Florida, USA;  Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills (10) hands off to Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first quarter at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Dameon Pierce carries Texans past Jaguars for first win

Dameon Pierce capped a 12-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 3:11 left to play as the Houston Texans earned their first win of the season, beating the host Jacksonville Jaguars 13-6 on Sunday.

Pierce, a rookie who played collegiately at Florida, rushed for 99 yards to carry a largely stagnant Texans offense. His bruising 20-yard run through a series of failed arm tackles set the Texans up at the Jacksonville 2-yard line. Two plays later, Pierce snapped a 6-6 deadlock as Houston (1-3-1) beat Jacksonville (2-3) for the ninth consecutive time.

Jaguars rookie linebacker Travon Walker enabled the Texans to extend their winning drive with his late hit on Texans quarterback Davis Mills, providing Houston a crucial automatic first down on third-and-20. Mills finished 16 of 24 for 140 yards. The Texans amassed only 248 yards.

Jacksonville committed several critical errors en route to the loss. Trevor Lawrence tossed a pair of interceptions, one in the end zone to Texans rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. that snuffed a nine-play, 68-yard drive early in the second half. The Jaguars finished 0-for-3 on fourth down, committed six penalties and were guilty of several ill-timed dropped passes.

Lawrence completed 25 of 47 passes for 286 yards. Texans cornerback Desmond King II picked off his final pass of the game, a desperation heave from midfield with the game clock expired.

The Jaguars’ inability to sustain success began in the first half. Travis Etienne Jr. broke off consecutive runs of 18 and 30 yards on the Jaguars’ second possession only for that drive to stall. The Jaguars pushed to the Houston 8 on their next drive but settled for a 26-yard Riley Patterson field goal after Texans defensive tackle Maliek Collins flushed Lawrence from the pocket on third down.

Ka’imi Fairbairn recorded field goals of 50 and 51 yards for the Texans, who grabbed a 6-3 lead with 3:23 left in the half. Houston averaged just 4.6 yards on the two scoring drives sandwiched around the first of three failed fourth-down conversions by Jacksonville.

The Jaguars did catch a break just prior to the intermission. Etienne fumbled a would-be catch and the ball was recovered by Houston, but the fumble was overturned by replay. Patterson followed with a 45-yard kick that yielded a 6-6 halftime tie.

–Field Level Media

Oct 2, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) in action against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Improving Jaguars will have to overcome recent history to defeat Texans

The Jacksonville Jaguars have, through four weeks, put on film evidence of their improvement from last season to this one, a reality confirmed by their position in the AFC South standings.

The Jaguars (2-2), set to host the Houston Texans (0-3-1) at TIAA Bank Field on Sunday, are tied atop the division with the Tennessee Titans. They have already recorded one intradivision win (Week 2 over the Indianapolis Colts), bludgeoned the Los Angeles Chargers on the road, and their two losses have both come on the road by just one score. The tell-tale signs are apparent.

Within their locker room, the Jaguars are convinced of their development. Considering that Jacksonville has recorded double-digit losses in each of the previous four seasons and 10 out of the last 11, more wins are likely required for the remainder of the NFL to sit up and take notice.

Jacksonville has dropped eight consecutive games to the Texans, and the Jaguars’ last division victory against a team other than Indianapolis came Sept. 19, 2019, a 20-7 win over Tennessee.

“It’s a really good, competitive division,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said. “I think the faster teams can start in the division … obviously an opportunity to get to the postseason is to be able to handle your division games.

“It’s another opportunity for our team to take another step forward and grow as a team and also understand that this is a good football team coming in here. It’s going to take a really good week of preparation and practice to get that done.”

The Texans are the lone remaining winless team in the league but, as Pederson noted, Houston has shown a fair amount of second-half pluck.

After blowing a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead in their season-opening tie with the Colts, the Texans led 9-6 in the third quarter on the road against the Denver Broncos and pulled even on the road in the waning moments of the third quarter against the Chicago Bears in Week 3.

The Texans dropped both of those contests and, after rallying to within three points midway through the fourth quarter after trailing the Chargers 27-7 last Sunday, proved unable to complete that comeback. The Texans’ three losses are by a combined 20 points, and their inability to either initiate their offense early or maintain momentum late has been pervasive.

“At the end of the day, it’s about starting fast is the name of the game,” Texans receiver Brandin Cooks said. “The message to specifically on our side, the offense, being able to start fast like we started in that second half.”

For a team that ranks 27th in the NFL in total offense, generating offense early is tied to mustering some measure of confidence. The Texans have struggled mightily in that regard, yet remain hopeful that their recent success against the Jaguars might serve as a benefit Sunday.

“I think historically, at least for the most recent years, the Texans have always handled the Jags efficiently,” Texans quarterback Davis Mills said. “We’ve gotten wins in the recent years, and we want to keep it rolling in the same way.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 30, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars quarterback Clayton Tune (3) hands the ball off to running back Stacy Sneed (21) during the third quarter against the Tulane Green Wave at TDECU Stadium in Houston, Texas. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis must play better against Houston to continue win streak

Memphis will look to build on a four-game winning streak when it hosts stumbling Houston on Friday in an American Athletic Conference matchup.

With a win Friday, the Tigers (4-1, 2-0 AAC) can remain at the top of the conference standings and all but doom Houston’s chances for a repeat appearance in the league championship game.

Memphis heads into Friday’s game on the heels of a 24-3 win at home over Temple. The Tigers shrugged off a ragged first half in which they were held scoreless for the first time since 2017 and rolled to the victory.

“We’re doing enough to win games. It doesn’t mean that we’re even close to where we need to be,” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said Sunday. “Everything that we’re doing has to get fixed and improved upon quickly because we know we can’t go out there and play like we did (against Temple).”

The Cougars head to Memphis on the heels of a 27-24 overtime loss at home to Tulane on Sept. 30. Houston has played three overtime games this season, a program record, and has dropped two of them.

Houston (2-3, 0-1 AAC) scored 14 straight points in the fourth quarter before Tulane produced a tying TD with 39 seconds left in regulation. The Cougars opted to take the ball first in overtime and kicked a field goal, but Tulane had the final say via a game-winning touchdown pass on its possession.

Prior to the season, Houston was picked to win the AAC in a media poll, edging Cincinnati. Linebacker Donavan Mutin was candid when asked about the Cougars’ struggle to close out games and what needs to be done to turn around the situation.

“(Our opponents) make more plays to win than we do,” Mutin said. “From the head of the snake to the tail of the snake, we need alignment. It needs to be coherent. The message needs to be clear. We’re going to have a chance to do that or not and our season will be the ramifications of whatever we do.”

Quarterback Clayton Tune threw for 208 yards and two scores in the loss, in which he became just the fourth player in Houston history to amass 10,000 career total yards.

Houston has won 16 of its 30 games against the Tigers in the all-time series. The teams have split the 16 contests played in Memphis.

–Field Level Media

Oct 2, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA;  Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) celebrates with Los Angeles Chargers center Corey Linsley (63) after running for a touchdown  during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Herbert leads Chargers past Texans

Justin Herbert passed for 340 yards and two touchdowns to help the visiting Los Angeles Chargers hold on for a 34-24 win against the Houston Texas on Sunday.

Mike Williams caught seven passes for 120 yards, and Austin Ekeler rushed for 60 yards and two touchdowns for the Chargers (2-2), who led 27-7 at the half.

Dameon Pierce rushed for 131 yards on 14 carries, including a 75-yard touchdown run, for the Texans (0-3-1).

The Chargers posted 293 total yards in the first half but punted on their first three possessions of the second half and then fumbled away a kickoff that led to another score.

The Texans cut their deficit to 27-14 on an 8-yard touchdown pass from David Mills to Rex Burkhead with 1:12 left in the third quarter.

The Texans quickly got the ball back, and a 58-yard reception by Nico Collins put the ball in the Los Angeles red zone. Mills followed with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks to cut the Chargers’ lead to 27-21 with 10:02 to play.

The Chargers fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the Texans recovered at the Los Angeles 13, leading to a 40-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn that cut the margin to 27-24 with 8:30 remaining.

The Chargers converted a fourth-and-2 on their own 45 with 4:39 left. Herbert then capped the key possession with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ekeler to make it 34-24 with 2:28 left.

Three minutes into the game, Herbert found tight end Gerald Everett for an 18-yard touchdown strike and a 7-0 Chargers lead. Los Angeles made the score 14-0 on a 10-yard touchdown run by Ekeler with 12:57 left in the first half.

A 50-yard completion from Herbert to Williams put Los Angeles on the Houston 20-yard line. Ekeler ran into the end zone on the next play to make it 21-0 with 10 minutes left in the first half.

Houston scored 12 seconds later when Pierce broke loose for his 75-yard touchdown run to cut the Chargers’ lead to 21-7.

Dustin Hopkins kicked a 23-yard field goal to make the score 24-7 with 4:35 left in the first half and then tacked on a 37-yarder just before halftime to make it 27-7.

–Field Level Media

Sep 24, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars defensive lineman Nelson Ceaser (9) celebrates with linebacker Jamal Morris (25) after returning a fumbled ball for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Rice Owls at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston tries to weed out problems in meeting with Tulane

Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen is looking for an all-around improvement from his Cougars, and not all of it has to do with them splitting the first four games of the season.

After starting the campaign ranked No. 24, the season started on a high note for Houston, after beating UTSA 37-35 in three overtimes. But now, it there may be tension within the program.

The Cougars (2-2) will look to sort out some of those problems when they host American Athletic Conference foe Tulane (3-1) Friday night in the conference opener.

In his fourth year at Houston’s helm, Holgorsen has become frustrated with his squad.

“Tired of yelling at them. Tired of motivating them. Tired of all that crap,” Holgorsen said after last Saturday’s 34-27 win over Rice.

The Cougars’ defense had to come to the rescue against the Owls.

With the game tied at 27, Nelson Ceaser returned a fumble 11 yards for a score. Thabo Mwaniki picked off a tipped pass on the next series to help seal the win.

After two convincing wins to open the season, the Green Wave — a two-touchdown underdog at Kansas State — stunned the Wildcats 17-10 on Sept. 17.

However, the euphoria of the 3-0 start was dashed in last weekend’s 27-24 home loss to Southern Mississippi.

Tulane’s Tyjae Spears rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns and caught five passes for 74 yards.

But it wasn’t enough to keep the Golden Eagles from prevailing. Despite the setback, Tulane is 3-1 to start a season for the first time since 2019.

“We feel like there’s no reason you can’t win big here,” Tulane head coach Willie Fritz said. “We’ve come really close a few years where we just didn’t get it done and it could have been eight-, nine- and 10-win seasons.”

Houston has won the past two meetings with the Green Wave and owns a 19-7 edge in the all-time series.

–Field Level Media