HOUSTON (AP) — Coach Tom Herman’s only loss since taking over at Houston came to UConn last season.
As the sixth-ranked Cougars (4-0, 1-0 American) prepare to meet the Huskies (2-2, 0-1) again Thursday night, they’re determined not to let them ruin another perfect season.
“We don’t focus on it (but) there is a bit of internal sense of liability, of atonement, to right some of the wrongs that occurred,” Herman said.
The Cougars were 10-0 last year when they were toppled 20-17 by the Huskies in Connecticut in the first meeting between the schools.
Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. didn’t start that game because of an ankle injury, but had to come in for the last series when backup Kyle Postma was injured.
Though the Cougars would certainly like to have an undefeated season, their first goal is to win the American Athletic Conference title and know that if they lose this game it could hurt their chances to do that.
“This is the next step on that path. That’s how we are looking at it,” tight end Tyler McCloskey said. “They out-prepared us last year, so the most important thing to us this year is that they don’t out-prepare us again.”
Herman learned a lot about his team and how to better deal with his players from that loss. Entering last year’s game against UConn he didn’t realize how much they had been wiped out from their previous few games.
“I learned that teams get tired,” he said. “That game came on the heels of a three game stretch of Vanderbilt, Cincinnati and Memphis … that took a lot out of our football team. UConn was coming off a bye week, and they were at home. I learned we have to be very mindful of the state of the team week to week in terms of their mental and physical exhaustion levels and take every step necessary to make sure they’re in peak mental and physical condition … on game day.”
Some things to know about Thursday’s UConn-Houston game.
STINGY RUN DEFENSE
The Cougars rank first in the nation in run defense by allowing just 37 yards rushing a game. This week they’ll have an interesting challenge in dealing UConn with running back Arkeel Newsome and dual-threat quarterback Bryson Shirreffs. Newsome leads the Huskies with 211 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and Shirreffs is second on the team with 187 yards rushing and a TD on the ground.
Houston will try to limit the touches of Noel Thomas on Thursday after the receiver had two touchdown receptions in UConn’s win last season. He’s off to another good start this year and has 40 catches for 388 yards and a score. Thomas had a career-high 14 reception against Syracuse on Saturday, and ranks fourth in the country and second in the conference in receptions this season.
HOME SWEET HOME
This will be Houston’s second home game this year, but to the Cougars it feels as if they haven’t really played at home because a weather delay of more than 3 1/2 hours in the first quarter of their home opener against Lamar sent most of the fans packing early.
“The place should be packed and rocking, especially with a national television audience,” Herman said. “It feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve had a home game.”
UConn coach Bob Diaco lamented a rash turnovers by his team that have led to touchdowns this season. The Huskies have had two fumbles returned for touchdowns and Syracuse returned an interception for a touchdown against them last week.
“If it’s an anomaly, it needs to end,” he said. “If it’s not an anomaly, it needs to be coached to end because when those things happen in a game you’re not going to win, especially against fine and quality competition.”
RED ZONE SUCCESS
When a reporter mentioned that the Cougars scored on each of their six trips inside the red zone against Texas State, Herman raised his hands in the air and let out a cheer. He said the improvement in that area is due to better play by the offensive line.
“We were not playing well the first few games, and you have to run the ball down there, because you’ve got more bodies in less space,” he said. “Our offensive line grew up a little bit on Saturday against Texas State in … the way we ran the football.”
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