Coach Dana Holgorsen has steered No. 24 Houston through all the pitfalls that annually accompany a regular-season schedule, keeping the dizzying highs and sobering lows in the proper perspective while advancing the Cougars to the brink of a significant accomplishment.
With their 37-8 road victory over the Temple Owls last Saturday, the Cougars (9-1, 7-0 AAC) not only extended their winning streak to nine consecutive games, they also clinched a berth in the conference championship game for the first time since winning the league crown in 2015. The Cougars are likely to face No. 5 Cincinnati (10-0, 6-0) in what could be an anticipated showcase of the only two teams left unbeaten in conference play.
But the Cougars would need to defeat the visiting Memphis Tigers (5-5, 2-4) on Friday at TDECU Stadium to complete their first unblemished conference slate since 2011. Before the Cougars can shift their attention to Cincinnati or a conference title, they must zero in on Memphis first. The Tigers have won five consecutive games in the series.
“It’s not what our focus is right now. It’s a goal,” Holgorsen said of qualifying for the conference championship game. “I’m proud of the guys for accomplishing their goal. We’ve got unfinished business here before we start thinking about that.
“It’s good for the program. It’s a goal that we wanted to achieve and we checked that off. There’s still a lot of football to be played and our focus is going to be on Memphis.”
The Cougars are unbeaten through seven weeks of a conference slate for just the third time. They have relied on offensive balance, with freshman running back Alton McCaskill accounting for two touchdowns against Temple to set a program freshman record with 14 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Clayton Tune has passed for 2,448 yards and 21 touchdowns with Nathaniel Dell (58 receptions for 865 yards and eight touchdowns) serving as his primary target.
A defense that allowed on average nearly 40 points in wins over SMU and USF recovered to surrender just 10 first downs and 48 total plays against Temple. The Cougars are rounding into form at the perfect time, but one more obstacle remains before their work is complete.
“That game is big,” Holgorsen said. “That’s a rival game, a conference game, the last home game, Senior Night. Friday night ESPN game. We should have a great crowd. That’s our focus here moving forward right now.”
The Tigers have dropped five of seven following a 3-0 start, including last week’s 30-29 overtime loss to East Carolina. Memphis has lost four games by one score to undermine early-season momentum.
“Obviously I had to put that chapter to close quickly and jump on Houston in a short week,” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said. “They’ve won nine straight by (an average) margin of 22 points. They’re rolling and red hot and we’ve got to play in a tough environment at their place.
“We know what’s at stake, but we know our guys will continue to fight and look for a great week of preparation.”
–Field Level Media