So much has changed for Houston in the last month.
This time in September, the Cougars were coming off a shootout loss on the road against Texas Tech. Since then, they’ve rattled off three straight wins and are the only undefeated team in the AAC West.
“It's been a concentrated effort to get better,” Houston head coach Major Applewhite said. “We've come a long way, but we've got a million miles to go. We have several takeaways from the past weeks, but it's either a pat on the pack or it turns into a message.”
Houston went on the road and beat East Carolina last Saturday 42-20 behind 209 passing yards and two touchdowns from quarterback D’Eriq King and a combined 157 yards and two scores on the ground.
Junior defensive tackle Ed Oliver third the AAC single-game record with five tackles for loss to go with two sacks and a forced fumble and was named the conference Defensive Player of the Week.
But the biggest positive for Applewhite and the Cougars was that they didn’t turn the ball over once and had three interceptions.
“Granted we had penalties and we're going to correct those,” Applewhite said. “But you don't give free ones up, you don't create short fields for your defense, you have a good decision maker back there and you have ball carriers that understand the value of the football. That's important when you go on the road and play.”
Houston had a season-high 12 penalties for 115 yard called on them in the win against the Pirates, including five holding calls and personal foul targeting call that Gleson Sprewell was ejected for.
“We've got to capitalize on those things, stay out of our own way and play cleaner from an administrative standpoint before the ball is snapped. We're going to have some aggressive penalties, some holding and things like that, but we've got to get out of our own way before the ball is snapped."
The Cougars will have even fewer drives to work with this week when they face off with Navy and the triple option, which in part aims to limit drives by chewing time off the clock. Applewhite said the team can’t have as many penalties this week because they’ll most likely have fewer drives to get points on the board.
The Midshipmen have dropped three straight games and gave up 300 passing yards in their loss to Temple last weekend. They have the second-worst offensive production in the conference, averaging just 365.3 yards per game.
Navy is the top AAC team in rushing offense, while Houston tops the lost in the passing game.
"It's a lot of the same things that they've continually done, and then they'll fit their personnel groupings and their quarterbacks around their scheme,” Applewhite said. “It's great execution. Those are the big battles, in terms of getting off the field and creating opportunities for our offense because the game is going to be short with fewer possessions, and securing the football from an offensive standpoint.”