The Houston Cougars are bracing a much better challenge this week when they face Cincinnati at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 15 on ESPN.
Both teams are entering the contest with 2-0 records. The Bearcats beat Tennessee-Martin 28-7 and Purdue 38-20.
Cougars coach Tom Herman said he expects to face a much improved Cincinnati opponent with better defensive linemen and safeties.
“They seem to be a little bit more sound in what they’re doing,” he said. “They’re in the right places at the right time on defense.”
The Bearcats are led by quarterback Hayden Moore who has completed 40 of 66 passes for 510 yards, five touchdowns and an interception and 13 rushes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. The rushing attack is led by running backs Tion Green, who has 32 carries for 150 yards, and Mike Boone has 30 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Devin Gray has nine catches for 167 yards, and receiver Nate Cole has 12 receptions for 145 yards and three touchdowns.
“On offense, the quarterback is playing at an extremely high level,” Herman said. “He’s a really good player behind a massive offensive line. They’re running the ball a little bit better than they have in years past. It will be a challenge.”
While Herman said he’ll appreciate having Friday and Saturday off, he wasn’t thrilled about playing Cincinnati on a short week. The reason is because of the weather delay that took almost four hours to clear before the Cougars could stomp Lamar 42-0. It also meant Houston played 97 snaps and began preparations for the Bearcats Sept. 11.
“I understand why they do it,” he said. “The ratings are off the charts when you play these Thursday night games, and we’re in the entertainment business, but we play four of these. We have three Thursday night games and a Friday night game. So in a 12-game schedule, a third of our games are not on a Saturday. That takes its toll on players’ bodies. We’re playing four games in 20 days. You do the math, that’s a lot of pounding on a young man’s body in a short amount of time.”
What does help is the game plan is very similar to last year, and the players know the offensive and defensive schemes well, the coach said.
Herman also adjusted the practice schedule such as calling practice at 7:15 p.m. Sept. 11 to get the Cougars used to playing under stadium lights and to allow them to rest their bodies longer. He called for the same practice time Sept. 12 but added a longer treatment time earlier in the day for those who needed it.
“We’re trying to not be on the field very long, so there’s not really much individual time,” the coach said. “It’s all scout work and special teams work. Then we’ll go back to our normal Thursday schedule tomorrow in the afternoon. That’s what we did leading up to the SMU game (last season), and we felt like that was pretty good.”
The one good aspect of the weather delay during the Lamar game was the amount of treatment quarterback Greg Ward Jr. received, Herman said, which was one session at the beginning as the team was preparing for the 11 a.m. kickoff and a second session when it was clear the delay was going to be several hours. Ward didn’t play because of a shoulder injury. He threw the ball well Sept. 11 and the coach expects the same results throughout the week.
“He was out in pads (Sept. 11) and practiced,” he said. “He’s still sore, but the soreness is all muscular, so we’re doing everything we can from massages to dry needling to make sure that the muscles that surround the shoulder are ready to go.”
And though running back Duke Catalon sat out the Lamar contest, Herman said Catalon should play against Cincinnati. Despite Ward and Catalon missing the contest, the Cougars had 71 rushes for 381 yards and six touchdowns.
“A lot of that was our offensive line doing some yeoman’s work up front,” Herman said. “They didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch, but any time a young guy can get that many valuable game reps is a blessing for those guys. You feel like either one of those guys could go in for a spell right now. Would you want to go into the Cincinnati game right now with either one of those guys carrying the ball 27 times? I don’t think so. They’re not quite there yet in their development, but it was a good step forward.”
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