HOUSTON (AP) — No. 17 Houston has wrapped up a berth in the American Athletic Conference championship game, but that’s not where the Cougars’ focus is.
Houston (9-1, 7-0 AAC) has a chance to finish conference play undefeated and extend its winning streak to 10 games with a win Friday night against Memphis (5-5, 2-4).
“This is a huge game,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We don’t want to focus on the championship game. We’re not focusing on that. We’re happy about it. It’s a goal. We checked the box. It’s great for the program and our 19 seniors.
“We don’t know who we are playing or where we are playing at this point in time," he continued. “We’ll worry about that when we need to worry about it.”
The Cougars might also be able to help Holgorsen sleep a little easier after dropping last season’s matchup to Memphis 30-27 on a last-second field goal. It was Houston’s fifth straight defeat in the series.
“Last year still haunts me a little bit,” Holgorsen said.
The Cougars’ offense has been tough to control this season, scoring at least 21 points in every game and more than 40 points in six of the last nine games. Houston has taken care of the ball, fumbling only twice this season, and quarterback Clayton Tune has gone five consecutive games without an interception.
However, Memphis and Houston have played each other close, with five of the last seven games decided by one possession.
Memphis needs a win to become bowl eligible for the eighth straight season and salvage a disappointing season.
“They’ve won nine straight by I believe a margin of 22 points,” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said. “They’re rolling it red hot and play in a tough environment at their place. We know what’s at stake but our guys will continue to believe and fight.”
Memphis receiver Calvin Austin III’s status for Friday’s game is uncertain after he was limited last Saturday against East Carolina due to injury. Austin leads the AAC in yards receiving and receptions per game (6.7) and is 12th nationally with 1,026 yards receiving.
“With a player of his caliber that’s put in the work, he’s so smart that if he feels better come Thursday and is able to get through Thursday’s practice and able to go on Friday, I know he will," Silverfield said. "We trust his judgment and obviously constantly consulting with the doctor.”
Houston has made it a point to go after the quarterback this season, including making a street sign for “Sack Ave.” The Cougars have been paying it a visit frequently: They are fifth nationally in sacks with 3.4 per game. D’Anthony Jones is third in the conference with five sacks, Latrell Bankston is fourth with 4.5, Logan Hall and Derek Parish are sixth with four and David Anenih is 11th with three.
Memphis has only eight rushes of 20 yards or more this season. Silverfield said part of the reason for the lack of big plays in the run game has been the use of more run-pass options this season. He added that the Tigers have to do a better job blocking, but he noted that injuries to his running back have also hurt.
“I’d like to be more explosive,” Silverfield said. “We constantly look at it. I put a lot of that on my shoulders to figure out how we can be more explosive in the run game.”
HOUSTON’S RECEIVING CORPS
Tune has thrown for 2,448 yards and 21 touchdowns while completing nearly 70% of his passes. It's helped that he's had so many different targets to utilize. Nathaniel Dell leads the team with 58 receptions for 865 yards and eight touchdowns, Christian Trahan is next with 31 catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns and KeSean Carter has 26 receptions for 331 yards and a score. In total, 14 different receivers have caught a pass this season and nine different receivers have a touchdown catch.
AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker contributed to this report.
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