Epic win, national ranking propel No. 20 Houston into USF matchup

NCAA Football

No. 20 Houston will ride a wave of momentum created by a seven-game win streak and an electric victory when it plays South Florida on Saturday night in an American Athletic Conference game in Tampa.

Houston (7-1, 5-0) heads to South Florida after a rousing 44-37 home victory over previously undefeated SMU last week.

Houston won on Marcus Jones’ 100-yard kickoff return in the final seconds.

The win allowed Houston its first ranking in the Top 25 since Oct. 28, 2018, when it landed at No. 17. The team remained in the poll for just one week.

The Cougars’ win streak is their longest since winning eight straight from Nov. 27, 2015-Sept. 29, 2016.

“Any time you get an emotional game like that, whether you win or whether you lose, you’ve gotta move on,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We’re in a good spot. We’re 5-0 and in first place in the conference, so how hard do we want to work to stay there? That’s going to be the message going forward.”

The Cougars also received huge performances from wide receiver Nathaniel Dell (nine catches for 165 yards and three touchdowns) and quarterback Clayton Tune (a career-high 412 yards and four touchdowns passing) to survive SMU.

Dell posted the first three-TD performance for a Cougars receiver since 2018 and garnered AAC offensive player of the week honors. Jones received the conference’s special-teams player of the week award for his game-winning, walk-off return.

Houston is one of two unbeaten teams in the AAC — along with No. 2 Cincinnati — and will need to continue to win to qualify for the AAC championship game on Dec. 4.

South Florida (2-6, 1-3) returns home with anything but momentum following a 29-14 loss at East Carolina on Oct. 28, the Bulls’ fourth setback in the past five games.

The Bulls’ defense forced three turnovers in the loss, played in periodic heavy rain, but South Florida lost the ball four times – on a fumble and three interceptions, one of which was return by East Carolina for a TD.

Freshman Katravis Marsh passed for 192 yards and a touchdown in his second career start at quarterback for the Bulls, and Kelly Joiner Jr. ran for 103 yards on just 12 carries. South Florida averaged 6.4 yards per snap on just 60 plays but were doomed by turnovers.

The Bulls were 0 for 7 on third-down conversion attempts and 2 of 4 on fourth-down tries, and struggled mightily in the second half after going to the break ahead 14-6.

“It was a disappointing finish,” South Florida coach Jeff Scott said. “I felt like our guys played pretty well in the first half. But in the second half, we just couldn’t get off the field on third down and we couldn’t convert on third down. That’s kind of where the game was won and lost right there in the second half.

“Hopefully this nine-day break that we’re going to have before the next game will give us a chance to get some things figured out.”

Houston and South Florida are meeting for the eighth time, with the Cougars holding a 5-2 edge highlighted by five consecutive victories (2013-present).

–Field Level Media

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