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Houston stifles Arizona and hangs on to win 19-16

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First game for the Cougars was sloppy, but key plays let Houston hang on to win.

NCAA Football: Houston at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it definitely wasn’t pretty, but the Houston Cougars came out 1-0 against the Arizona Wildcats. Given that it was the first game, there were numerous aspects that Houston needs to fix, but they got the win.

NCAA Football: Houston at Arizona
Oliver was a nuisance yet again for another opponent against the Wildcats
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Oliver continues to prove he’s one of the best college football players in the country, and the Wildcats never found an answer to stifle his attack. Oliver finished with 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and a blocked field goal. That stat line doesn’t do his performance justice, as he affected numerous other plays. Oliver’s motor can’t be measured, and if you watched the game, you would have seen #10 in white everywhere on each play. If you can find a player who’s motor runs better than Oliver’s, I would like to see him.

It appeared that Houston’s defense was going to dominate the Wildcats offense, and Arizona couldn’t find any room to run early in the game. Once the Wildcats found their rhythm in the passing game, the running lanes opened up as well. Arizona’s JJ Taylor led all rushers with 87 yards in the game, and had quite a few nice plays against Houston defenders.

In the end, the defense made the big plays needed to win the game. They forced a fumble that resulted in a safety to give the Cougars their 19-10 lead, and safety Garrett Davis came up with a huge interception late in the game. Whether it was Brandon Dawkins or Khalil Tate at quarterback for Arizona, neither was completely comfortable due to Houston’s defensive line. The secondary is going to need some work, as there were times when the defensive backs were beat and got lucky with an incompletion. That may not be a problem next week, but it will be a major concern when Texas Tech comes to Houston.

Offensively, things started well for the Cougars. Kyle Allen was 15-for-20 passing at one point, and it seemed like passing was easily their best option. With the offensive line struggling to win the battle in the trenches, running backs Duke Catalon and Dillon Birden struggled to find running lanes.

Allen would finish 25-for-32 but did throw two bad interceptions, but the offensive line kicked into gear to make up for the first half. Birden finished with 83 yards and Catalon finished with 78 yards on the ground. Allen also connected with seven different receivers, and one of his targets’ returns is uncertain. Linell Bonner led the Cougars with nine receptions that went for 59 yards and a touchdown. Steven Dunbar had six catches for a team-high 72 yards.

It seemed like the play-calling became fairly conservative after Allen’s second pick. Running plays and various screens surfaced in the calls from that point on, and the Cougars appeared to be trying not to lose. It could be the offensive coordinator Brian Johnson didn’t want to tip his hand so early in the season.

Ellis Jefferson went for up for a catch in the end zone in the first half, came down with the ball, and hit his head on the ground. He did not move for a while as trainers came to his aide, but he did leave the field under his own power. Jefferson was already showing his athletic ability, and his loss was felt as the game continued. There aren’t any updates as of right after the game on his status, but Houston fans can only hope that he will be able to play in the ensuing weeks.

This wasn’t an impressive game, but the Cougars leave Tucson with a win. Oliver dominated as expected, and hopefully he finally receives the national attention he deserves. There is plenty of work to do on both sides of the ball, and someone besides Oliver will need to make plays on a consistent basis.