When the first week of December rolls around, the Houston Cougars will have the opportunity to compete for the conference crown. By breezing past Temple in 37-8 fashion Saturday afternoon, Houston locked up a slot in the AAC Championship Game for the first time since 2015.
Dana Holgorsen’s Cougars remain unbeaten in AAC play as they extend their win streak to nine games — the program’s longest since they started 10-0 in the 2015 AAC championship season. On the other side of things, Temple extended its losing streak to five which is the longest active skid in the AAC.
The end result was a comfortable 29-point victory but the game featured some first half sloppiness from Houston. The Cougars entered halftime with a 10-0 lead over the slumping Owls, marking its lowest scoring first half since trailing 17-7 vs. Navy in Week 4. However, the unit corrected itself by posting 27 points in the second half, marking its sixth consecutive game exceeding 30 points.
True freshman halfback Alton McCaskill has been a rising star for Houston this year. Last week against South Florida, he broke out for a career-high 125 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Just seven days later, McCaskill topped that personal best with 129 yards. He scored Houston’s lone touchdown of the first half and spearheaded the scoring effort in the second half with a 34-yard touchdown run on a delayed handoff.
It was the first game this season where Houston produced more rushing yards than passing yards. But quarterback Clayton Tune continued his stretch of efficient football by finishing his fifth consecutive game with multiple touchdown passes and zero interceptions. His first touchdown pass was delivered in the early fourth quarter when transfer receiver Jaylen Erwin slipped past a busted coverage for a 35-yard reception. Later in the quarter, following a 38-yard run by linebacker Donavan Mutin on a fake punt, Tune connected with tight end Seth Green for the game’s final score.
For Temple, quarterback Justin Lynch recorded his first career start. The brother of former Northern Illinois Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch, Justin displayed some similarities with a team-high 78 rushing yards. However, the rest of his team combined for 21 rushing yards, and Lynch finished 11/24 with two interceptions against one of the premier defenses in the AAC. With only just eight points to show, Temple’s offense was held to single digits for the third straight outing.
Houston, which led the nation in sack output until last week, surprisingly registered just one on the Owls, but the defense struck in other ways. The Cougars forced five three-and-outs on Temple’s first seven possessions and intercepted the Owls three times on their final five drives. Cornerback Marcus Jones, renowned for his electric kick and punt return abilities, stepped up defensively by recording an interception for the third consecutive week.
Temple has officially been eliminated from bowl eligibility with the loss which will secure back-to-back losing seasons for Rod Carey’s program.
For Houston, things have never been brighter in the Holgorsen era. With an AAC title game appearance on the horizon, the Cougars hope to take care of business against Memphis and Connecticut to head into the first week of December with 11 wins.