Hi 70 / Lo 49
|Volume 68, Issue 53,
Thursday, November 7, 2002
Cougars come home
Rumors put ton rest as 4-4 Coogs prepare for ECU
By Geronimo Rodriguez
With no more time to grow up and a glowing bowl berth on the horizon, the Houston Cougarsi 2002 Homecoming game against East Carolina has built itself to be quite the showdown.
Not even rumors or injuries can hamper the 2 p.m. kickoff on Saturday at Robertson Stadium. Furthermore, considering how the Cougars (4-4, 2-3 in Conference USA) have weathered the recent storm of upsets, UH head coach Dana Dimel said the football team is looking a lot different than it did a few weeks ago.
"I feel like this is my football team now," Dimel said.
Junior quarterback Nick Eddy and senior running back Joffrey Reynolds have been leading a UH offense thatis capable of scoring points. Reynolds (averaging 120.1 yards a game) is the nationis No. 15 running back while Eddy has thrown for nearly 1,100 yards since reclaiming the starting job against Texas Christian.
While recognizing how the team has played in recent games, the way the Cougars play against ECU (2-5, 2-1 in C-USA) will set the tone for the rest of the season, he said.
"I look at this team now and they are doing what successful teams Iive coached in the past have done," Dimel said. "But the big thing going into this game is that we have three of our last four games at home, so itis going to be very critical for us to establish that we can play well at home."
Led by senior running back Joffrey Reynolds, who is the nationis 15th-ranked rusher and averages 120.1 yards a game, and junior quarterback Nick Eddy, who has thrown for 1,082 yards and nine touchdowns since regaining the starting job, the Cougar offense has rarely been silenced.
In the final games, the Cougars have hopes of improving in the areas they have proven to be vulnerable, Dimel said.
Against Army, the Cougars implemented a man-on-man defense, which opened up the Black Knightsi passing game. When the team played Memphis, Dimel said they went back to zone coverage and will probably stick with that throughout the season.
Aside from switching coverages, Dimel said the secondary is going through a bit of a transition. Dimel also said heis looking for a few players to break out in the coming games.
"Weire still trying to massage some personnel back there," Dimel said. "We just need to keep getting some improved play from our cornerbacks position. There are four to five candidates at that position and they are all going to play at that position and get a chance to step up.
"We just need Hanik Milligan (safety) to dominate a game like he can. He really hasnit stepped up the last couple of weeks and dominated like the way he needs to dominate a football game."
Just this season, the senior free safety, a Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Jim Thorpe Award candidate, has registered 99 total tackles, forced three fumbles, recovered two fumbles and grabbed one interception.
Milligan and the rest of the Cougar secondary may have a challenge ahead of them in stopping the Piratesi run game. But if the defensive unit does trip up ECUis leading rusher, the Cougars just might come out on top.
The nationis 38th-ranked rushing defense will face the 27th-ranked rushing team. Junior running back Art Brown also ranks eighth in the nation in scoring, running for at least one touchdown in each of ECUis games. Despite ECUis 2-5 record, Brown has averaged 107.6 yards a game.
The most rushing yards a player has gained against Houston this season is 160, by Texasi Cedric Benson. The defense has done well holding down the opponentsi run game, but Dimel said he doesnit want to be reminded of this success.
"If we donit worry about stopping the run, itill be a long day for us and thatis what we donit want to create," Dimel said. "We can solve passing game problems, but running game problems are very difficult to solve during game time."
In the Piratesi five losses, Brown has averaged only 81.2 yards a game, with the entire team averaging 86 yards in losing efforts. In the games, Brown rushed for more than 100 yards once; the Pirate gained 188 yards in the teamis 46-30 loss to South Florida on Oct. 19.
Conversely, Brown rushed for 346 yards — an average of 173 yards — in the teamis two wins this season. The two wins, which were both home games, came against C-USA rivals Tulane and Army.
Against the same Tulane and Army defenses, Joffrey Reynolds rushed for a combined 340 yards.
Without senior running back Chris Robertson, who is out for the season and will undergo surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament next week, redshirt freshman Anthony Davis will regain his rushing slot behind Reynolds.
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