Following Houston’s 38-31 win over Tulsa on Saturday, running back Dillon Birden was quick to credit the Cougars’ offensive line for his three-touchdown performance.
A day later, Birden followed up his postgame comments by tweeting, “My O-line is better than yours,” accompanied by an image of him standing in the end zone after one of his scores.
In addition to crossing the goal line three times against the Golden Hurricane, Birden rushed for a career-high 82 yards on 14 carries.
On Monday, he was named to the American Athletic Conference weekly honor roll.
When asked about the recognition, Birden again praised his teammates and coaches.
“It feels good, but I couldn’t do this without my offensive line,” Birden said. “The coaches put me in this position, and I appreciate them for the opportunity.”
That Birden continues to express so much gratitude and appreciation should come as no surprise.
In less than a year, the junior college transfer, who turned down a scholarship offer from Northwestern State and instead chose to walk on at Houston, has gone from the leading receiver at Blinn College in Brenham to the starting tailback for the 11th-ranked team in the nation.
“It’s a blessing,” Birden said.
And with Houston’s lead running back Duke Catalon having missed three straight games with concussion symptoms, Birden has been a blessing out of the backfield for the Cougars.
“Dillion is giving us everything he’s got,” Houston head coach Tom Herman said. “He’s a great kid, super smart, never makes a mistake, and he’s very reliable, very dependable.”
Despite getting just one carry in Houston’s first three games, the 5-9, 172-pound Birden leads the team in touchdowns, scoring seven times in the last four games.
But even though Birden enjoyed a career night against Tulsa, he lamented a second-quarter fumble following a Howard Wilson interception that shifted momentum from the Cougars to the Golden Hurricane.
Tulsa scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 4 minutes of the first half to tie the game at 17 going into the break.
“That was bad,” Birden said. “That was on me getting careless with the ball. We work on ball security every day, and that was me being lazy on one play. That can’t happen.”
Herman put it a little more bluntly.
“Hold onto the damn football,” he said.
Along with ball security, Herman would also like to see Birden get a better feel for anticipating holes on inside zone running plays.
“Great backs, to me, have always anticipated where the hole is going to be based on what the defense has given them,” Herman said. “A lot of that is through experience. You can watch all the tape you want, but when you’re doing it out there full speed, it’s a lot different.”
Birden might again be Houston’s starting running back Saturday in Dallas against SMU.
Catalon, who has not played since suffering what was originally diagnosed as a mild concussion Sept. 24 against Texas State, met with a neurosurgeon Monday, which Herman hoped would give the team more clarity on his status.
In the meantime, Birden is hopeful that with more playing time, he’ll be able to make the necessary adjustments to fill Catalon's void.
“I’ve got to run harder,” Birden said. “Me and coach Pope, we talked about it. I’ve got to help my offensive line with their blocks more, read my cuts, but it’s going to come with more reps and more time.”
And the O-line can also expect more praise from Birden, as well.
Anthony Oppermann is a sports copy editor for The Daily News. He can be reached at anthony. firstname.lastname@example.org.