With Houston's nonconference games against Rice, Baylor and North Texas postponed in September and the season opener delayed until Oct. 8 because of the coronavirus pandemic, Cougars coach Dana Holgorsen acknowledged that he needed a handful of games to accurately identify the tenor of his team.Following the Cougars' 37-21 victory last weekend at Navy, a result that featured Houston erasing a 13-9, second-quarter deficit with a 28-0 blitz, Holgorsen noted that the image of his team has crystalized.
The Cougars (2-1, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) will host UCF (3-2, 2-2 American) on Saturday with a better grasp of their identity, both good and bad.
"I learned more about our team," Holgorsen said. "I think we're a group that likes to play. I love the camaraderie. You learn a little more about that when you travel because you spend more time with them. You get them for an extra three or four hours on the plane and on buses.
"I like our team, and I think our team likes each other and plays hard for each other. We do continue to do some dumb things, which the majority of the dumb stuff this week was pre-snap issues and some technique issues, where previously most of the dumb stuff was celebration, post-snap stuff. We cleaned a lot of that stuff up, (but) obviously we were way too penalized."
The Cougars amassed nine penalties for 77 yards against the Midshipmen, with a handful of those self-inflicted wounds resulting in third-and-longs that undermined their offensive rhythm. The number of penalties represented a season low after the Cougars posted 10 against both Tulane and BYU, but the 420 yards on offense made it clear per Holgorsen's expectations that work remains to shore up the finer aspects of their efforts.
Houston's 91.33 penalty yards per game is the worst in the nation by a team that has played at least two games this season.
The Cougars would benefit from minimizing mistakes against UCF and its top-ranked offense. The Knights snapped a two-game losing streak, their first since 2016, with a 51-34 win over Tulane last Saturday. UCF recorded 689 yards on offense and is averaging 646.8 per game.
The FBS single-season record for total offense is 624.9 yards per game by Houston in 1989.
Sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel posted his second consecutive game with at least 400 passing yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions, joining Jared Goff with Cal in 2015 and Joe Burrow with LSU last season as the only FBS players to accomplish that feat over the past 15 years. Still, despite the superlatives, the Knights are trying to distance themselves from their early-season stumbles, issues unfamiliar for a program that had grown accustomed to success.
"You're only as good as your next performance," Knights coach Josh Heupel said. "Our record is what it is. That's who and what we are as a football team right now. We're defined this week by what happens on Saturday. Control today.
"This season has gone fast in some ways. In other ways, it's been a long journey to get to this point, too. I think our guys have an appreciation for today, just everything that they've gone through. Let's focus on that and enjoy being around each other, come into the building with great energy and go compete."
--Field Level Media