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Volume 72, Issue 63, Thursdsay, November 16, 2006

Sports

Cougars play for home-field advantage at Memphis

by MARK SUAREZ
THE DAILY COUGAR

The Cougars have planted their flag atop Conference USA West as division champions and will look to avoid a fall from grace in their final regular season game of 2006. 

Houston and Memphis are set to kickoff at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. UH has won four consecutive games and can ensure home-field advantage in the C-USA championship game with a victory against the Tigers, whose only win has come against Div. I-AA Chattanooga. 

Senior running back Jackie Battle admitted Houston overlooked an opponent earlier in the year and said his team would not make the same mistake twice.

"We can't look over them because we overlooked a team earlier in the season and we ended up losing it," Battle said. "That was a tough lesson learned, and we're not going to make the same mistake we made earlier in the season playing (Louisiana) Lafayette."

The Tigers are scoring 22 points per game behind the offensive output of juniors quarterback Martin Hankins and tailback Joseph Doss. Hankins averages 223 yards passing while Doss has rushed for 69 yards a game this season. Hankins has proven he's not shy when it comes to airing it out, completing 27 of 41 passes for 271 yards in a 26-24 loss to Central Florida on Saturday. 

Hankins will lead the Memphis offense against a Houston defense that has been stingy as of late, only giving up three second-half points in its last two games.

Sophomore Linebacker Rodney Rideau said the Cougars will look to hold the Tigers to three points for 60 minutes. 

"We're just going to try our best to not let them score this week," Rideau said. "I give them three points at the most this week." 

Memphis has had to settle for six conference losses in 2006. The Tigers have fallen to C-USA opponents by an average of 13 points this season and will look to notch their first conference win. 

It's been 10 years since Houston has won a conference title, making Saturday's game pivotal for a UH team looking to wrap up its first nine-win season in 16 years. 

"We are playing for home-field advantage (in the C-USA championship Dec. 1). Plus, we don't want to share the conference title with anyone," UH head coach Art Briles said. "We are going to represent the West, but we haven't won it (the conference championship) outright. 

"We could be co-champions with someone but we don't want that to happen We are going to be a selfish football team this weekend. We are going to go to Memphis, take care of business and come back undisputed West champs."

Houston (8-3, 6-1 C-USA) will enter its game against Memphis (1-9, 0-6 C-USA) ranked sixth in the nation in total offense. The Cougars are averaging 445 yards per game led by senior quarterback Kevin Kolb and their one-two punch out of the backfield in Battle and junior Anthony Alridge, who earned C-USA Offensive Player of the Week honors after rushing for 225 yards in Houston's 37-27 win over Southern Methodist. 

Kolb is ranked fourth in the nation in passing, having thrown for 2,999 yards, while Alridge leads the country with 12.1 yards per carry. 

Memphis has defeated Houston in each of the past three years.

This may be the Cougars best chance to break Memphis's win streak. They face a Tiger defense that is surrendering 413 total yards of offense per game, a trend Alridge is eager to exploit on Saturday.

"I can't wait to get out to Memphis," Alridge said. "They beat us the last (few) years, and I'm not going to settle for a loss this week." 

Sophomore defensive end Phillip Hunt earned C-USA Defensive Player of the Week honors after accumulating nine total tackles, three sacks and a crucial forced fumble late in the game against SMU Saturday. With the Cougars one step away from hosting the C-USA championship game, Hunt said seeing Robertson Stadium packed on Dec. 1 would be huge for UH. 

"Winning this game, it'll mean home-field advantage (in the C-USA championship) for the University," Hunt said. "I mean, packing Robertson Stadium, it's a good thing; it's a good feeling. When we have a packed house we usually win."

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