Houston will look to remain atop the American Athletic Conference standings and extend its winning streak to six games when it hosts East Carolina on Saturday.
Houston is coming off a bye after a 40-22 win over Tulane on Oct. 7. Quarterback Clayton Tune completed 23 of 26 pass attempts for 288 yards and three touchdowns to rally his team from a five-point, third-quarter deficit by scoring the game’s final 23 points.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever had a break this long,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen told reporters of the 16 days between games. “Everybody was back and ready to roll. Guys seemed ready to get back to work and motivated and ready to go.”
The Cougars (5-1, 3-0 AAC) are among three teams undefeated in American Athletic Conference play, along with No. 2 Cincinnati (6-0, 2-0) and No. 21 SMU (6-0, 2-0). Houston hosts SMU on Oct. 30, but it doesn’t face Cincinnati during the regular season, meaning the teams could only meet in the conference title game.
Houston has outscored its past five opponents 202-59 since a season-opening, 38-21 loss at Texas Tech in a nonconference game. The Cougars are averaging 37.2 points per game. The defense for East Carolina (3-3, 1-1) is allowing an average of 28 points per game.
Tune has thrown for 1,258 yards with 10 touchdowns against six interceptions, while Nathaniel Dell’s 35 receptions are at least double the total of any of his teammates, and his 477 yards are more than twice of any other Houston receiver. Alton McCaskill has emerged as the team’s top ground threat with a team-high 86 carries and 403 yards. He’s scored eight of the Cougars’ 14 rushing touchdowns.
Defensively, Houston has 24 sacks on the season, as its defensive line of Logan Hall (four sacks), Derek Parish (3.5) and D’Anthony Jones (3.5) consistently have gotten their hands on the quarterback.
East Carolina coach Mike Houston is aware of their prolific totals and likely spent the bye week preparing for the Cougars’ defense.
“We’ve got to do a great job of protecting (quarterback) Holton (Ahlers). We’ve got to be able to handle their front four,” Houston told reporters. “That’s going to be a huge piece to being successful Saturday. We’ve got to be able to pick up the pressures when they come.”
East Carolina’s three-game winning streak ended in dramatic fashion on Oct. 9, when Mark-Antony Richards’ 1-yard touchdown run with 23 seconds left lifted UCF to a 20-16 win.
Ahlers connected on 20 of 32 pass attempts for 219 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Tyler Snead had six receptions for 82 yards and Rahjai Harris and Keaton Mitchell rushed for 73 and 65 yards, respectively.
Ahlers has gone 121-for-202 for 1,485 yards with eight touchdowns and six interceptions in a run-heavy offense. Mitchell has rushed for a team-high 639 yards and four scores on 77 runs — an average of 8.3 yards per carry. Harris has added 292 yards and a pair of scores on 76 carries.
Snead leads the team in receptions (28), yards (362) and receiving touchdowns.
–Field Level Media