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AAC: Cougars slashing defenses for big points

Cincinnati UConn Football

Cincinnati running back Michael Warren II (3) gains yardage during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Connecticut, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, in East Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

It is a bit of an oddity in the relatively young history of the American Athletic Conference to have three unbeaten teams entering Week 6. One of them is Houston.

That hardly means the Cougars are off to a slow start. Houston, in fact, is 4-1 under head coach Major Applewhite with its lone loss coming at Texas Tech in a roller-coaster game that saw UH nonetheless score 49 points. Perhaps even more sobering for a 2-3 East Carolina team set to host the Cougars on Saturday night is the fact they have scored no fewer than 41 points in a game all season.

That shocking season-low output came in the form of a 41-26 win over Tulsa last week that improved UH to 2-0 in league play. A week after hanging 70 points on Texas Southern, the Cougs created and overcame some early hurdles for another convincing win as they prepare to come to Greenville, where last time they suffered a 48-28 Conference USA loss to the Pirates in 2012.

“I’m proud of the way they finished (against Tulsa),” Applewhite said during Monday’s weekly AAC coaches teleconference. “It was a rough start. We turned the ball over three times in the first 18 minutes of the game and put ourselves in a difficult hole, but we dug out of it and had a lead at halftime. And we really played well in the fourth quarter.”

The former Texas passer said halftime motivation was easy to find after both of his units knew they had gotten away with their miscues to still have a lead. ECU (0-2 AAC) will need to cause similar early problems for the Cougars in order to avoid a repeat of last year’s blowout loss in Houston.

UH flexed its muscles in the second half last week, posting a 24-0 run through the third and fourth quarters.

“That part of it was important, just to understand what type of game you’re in, that you’re going to be in those types of games week in and week out in this conference and that you’re going to have to have mental toughness in order to fight through and win those types of games,” Applewhite said.

Flying high

The new week began with a trio of East Division members in Central Florida (5-0), South Florida (5-0) and Cincinnati (6-0) all still riding unbeaten starts to the season, and in UCF’s case, an 18-game overall winning streak.

USF won a wild 58-42 affair against Massachusetts, while the Knights throttled SMU 48-20 and the Bearcats upended Tulane 37-21 in league play.

For Cincinnati and head coach Luke Fickell, having a off week this week is undoubtedly welcome in terms of rest, but it is most unwelcome in terms of momentum in a tight division race.

“It happens to come at a time when you’re on a roll and you’ve got a lot of momentum going, so sometimes you feel like it wouldn’t interrupt this run, this momentum, but it’s a good opportunity not only for the players to get some time to mentally get away and physically get away a little bit this weekend, but our coaches too,” Fickell said. “It’s a chance to clear their minds and get ready for the stretch run.”

That stretch run includes consecutive games against fellow unbeatens USF and UCF in November.

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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