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Houston defense obliterates Tulsa in 45-10 statement road victory

The Cougars force turnovers and sacks galore in a landslide Friday night domination.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Navy at Houston Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The first Friday night of October was slated to be a benchmark examination for Houston. The Cougars, pegged as underdogs in a road trip to Tulsa, passed their first true road trip of the season with flying colors. Houston inflicted a lopsided 45-10 result on its conference rival to win four consecutive games for the first time in the Dana Holgorsen era — tying the program’s highest win total since he was hired in 2019.

Houston pummeled Tulsa in all three phases of the game, but the defensive dominance stood above the rest. The Cougars picked off Tulsa quarterback Davis Brin on three occasions and limited him to a 51 percent completion rate. Cornerbacks Damarion Williams and Alex Hogan feasted on turnover opportunities, each snagging an interception off Brin in the second quarter. The fireworks show from the defensive backs extended past halftime, as free safety Gervarrius Owens returned a 45-yard interception for a touchdown on the third play of the second half.

While the secondary held its own, the Cougars’ defensive line partied in the backfield all night. Houston’s defensive linemen sacked Brin on four occasions as defensive tackles Logan Hall and Latrell Bankston caused plenty of havoc. The Golden Hurricane were severely outplayed at the line of scrimmage and entered the final quarter with negative rushing yards. By giving up a litany of sacks, getting stuffed on handoffs, and committing regular turnovers, Tulsa didn’t reach the end zone until the 9:26 mark of the fourth quarter.

Houston’s offense tied for its best scoring output of the season. Clayton Tune was the model of accuracy for the second week in a row, and he connected on 13 of his first 16 passes — including a sequence of 10 consecutive completions during that span. Tune also launched the scoring effort for the night by firing a dart to Jeremy Singleton on a tunnel screen. With a head of steam and a field of blockers, Singleton sprinted 47 yards for an early Cougars touchdown, providing the first punch in a wire-to-wire victory.

True freshman halfback Alton McCaskill continued to make a name for himself as one of the country’s elite newcomers. McCaskill made three first half appearances in the end zone — two quick dives from the doorstep of the goal line and one patient 27-yard run where he allowed blocks to develop before flying past the defense. Patient running and broken tackles were common themes for the freshman Friday night, and the lead back plowed his way to a game-high 77 rushing yards.

Houston’s success wasn’t limited to offense and defense. The special teams unit chipped in with massive contributions as well. All-American punt returner Marcus Jones continued to dazzle, fielding four punts for 75 yards. During a 47-yard punt return in the second quarter, Jones was one block away from taking a special teams touchdown to the house for the third consecutive week. One Tulsa punt didn’t even make it as far as Jones’ hands, as wide receiver Jake Herslow swooped in and blocked it in the early fourth quarter to complete a solid special teams showing.

Tulsa entered the night as the third most penalized team in the country, and the undesired trend continued for the Golden Hurricane. When the offensive line wasn’t under duress from the Cougars’ front four, the team was often flagged for holding. Such penalties negated some of Tulsa’s most productive offensive gains for the night. Houston matched Tulsa by accumulating nine penalties, but the Cougars’ 90 penalty yards paled in comparison to Tulsa’s 119.

As the only team in the AAC with a 2-0 league record, Houston remains on track for its first conference title game appearance in six seasons. Tulsa participated in the 2020 AAC Championship Game last December, but the hopes of returning to that stage took a slight hit Friday night. The Golden Hurricane dropped their first regular season conference game since Houston defeated them in November 2019, snapping a 7-game win streak.

At 1-4, Tulsa awaits another challenging conference clash as the Memphis Tigers visit the plains next Saturday. Houston takes its 4-1 record into another shortened week, and the Cougars retake the field in New Orleans next Thursday to battle Tulane.