We enter this week 2-0, and face a salty Houston Cougars team that is loaded with talent this year. Both teams are coming off solid wins last week in which there were plenty of positives and negatives. Namely, Texas Tech fans touched the brakes on their defense, and Houston has to wonder what happened when they didn’t score a point in the second half against Rice. It’s hard to predict what exactly will happen this week.
I’d like to thank the guys at The Scott & Holman Pawdcast, they do a fantastic Podcast (read Pawdcast). They added some great context for what we can expect Saturday. Toss them a follow on Twitter as well.
So let’s dive in!
1. The Cougars have played two games, and it would seem you have a decent idea of what to expect from new coach Major Applewhite. What has the new staff done differently from Tom Herman’s teams?
Sam: Obviously we’re talking about a 2 game sample size, so what I say comes with the caveat that you can only glean so much from that few games. From personal experience, Tom Herman was fairly gregarious and media-friendly (so it surprised me when I heard about the weird media rules for reporters covering the cow school in Austin) and Major Applewhite is a much more reserved guy. Players talked about how there was a lot more coaching and a lot less yelling this spring, though I think this staff and Herman’s staff are very similar. One of the big selling points of the Applewhite hire was that he would continue a lot of the positive aspects of the previous coaching staff and thus things look a lot similar from the last staff to this one.
2. - Most Tech fans are familiar with all-world defensive lineman Ed Oliver. Have you seen improvement from him this year? Also, what type of game does he need to have for the Cougars to win?
Dustin: I think he looks maybe even a little better this year. Last year he had a handful of games where he was merely “very good” as opposed to the several where he went full-on “unblockable holy terror”, and through the first two games this year he’s been the latter. Now he truly made his name during the Oklahoma and Louisville games last year, and obviously Arizona and Rice don’t have the same caliber of offense as those teams. So I’d like to see what he does against an elite offense like Tech’s on Saturday before I confidently state that he’s improved, but at the very least it doesn’t look like he’s regressed in any way. As far as what he needs to do on Saturday, I think he (and the rest of the UH defensive front) need to get pressure on Nic Shimonek, because UH is inexperienced at cornerback and the idea of them having to stay with Tech’s receivers for very long scares me.
3. - Kyle Allen was highly touted out of high school. Do you feel like the offense can maintain the standards of Greg Ward with Allen running the team?
Sam: Kyle Allen was a more highly-recruited QB than any other signal caller in UH history. That’s significant in some small part because virtually every great Cougar signal caller of note was very lightly recruited. For example, Case Keenum basically only had 1 D1 offer: Houston and Greg Ward Jr’s best other offer was Memphis. Regardless of how successful Allen and the offense become, the offense will look drastically different than it did with Ward. I think generally college football fans knew that Ward was a great dual-threat QB. But if you didn’t watch him week in and week out you truly can’t appreciate (especially in 2015) his almost supernatural ability to sense pressure from opposing players and escape that pressure. Allen is not a runner by any stretch, but he definitely has better arm strength and touch on passes than Ward or any post-Keenum QB. In the opener vs Arizona he threw a 49-yard completion to Keith Corbin that hit Corbin in stride and was unlike anything I’ve seen a Cougar QB do, maybe ever. A successful Cougar offense with Allen at the helm likely means throwing the ball 40-45 times a game, something we didn’t see more than occasionally with Ward.
4. - What do you feel like are Houston’s best matchups heading into Saturday?
Dustin: Well obviously I like the match-up of Ed Oliver against anybody in the country. Apart from that, I’m aware of Texas Tech’s struggles defensively last year, as well as the fact that Arizona State had success moving the ball through the air last week. I think UH’s passing offense is better than that of Arizona State, so I think Kyle Allen and company will be able to have success.
5. - A few fans have noted there’s still availability for tickets Saturday, and I’m sure an 11am kick-off doesn’t help. What sort of crowd is the university expecting? Do you feel like the fans will impact the gameplay?
Sam: While I think the 11 AM kickoff isn’t helping, I don’t think that’s a valid excuse for Cougar fans not being in attendance. Even with the game being a non-sellout as I type this, I expect this to be at least close to a sell out on Saturday morning. While I wouldn’t nominate UH for the most intimidating venue in college football, I think good crowds for key games have played a role in UH having the nation’s longest home winning streak at 16 games. There’ll be a good turnout from Red Raider fans too, so I think it’ll be as good of an atmosphere as one can create for an 11 am kick. I mentioned this in our latest episode, but I think going from the dry heat of Lubbock to the suffocating humidity of an early afternoon day in Houston will be a factor in Saturday’s game too.
6. - Are there any key injuries or suspensions for the Cougars?
Dustin: The Coogs have had some pre-season and early season injuries, particularly in the receiving corps and on the offensive line. The injury I’m most concerned about is senior tackle Na’Ty Rodgers, who hobbled off during the Rice game and didn’t return. He was maybe our best offensive lineman last year, and the line play got significantly worse when he missed time with injury last year. I haven’t seen anything conclusive about whether or not he’ll be available this week, and UH will be worse off if he’s not. Another one to keep an eye on is sophomore receiver D’Eriq King. He hasn’t played in the first two games this year, but when healthy he’s an electric playmaker.
7. - Score Prediction?
Sam: I think this will be a close game and both teams’ fan bases are rightly worried about the prospect of their opponents’ offense going against a defense that in some ways is a bad match up. I think it’s not a controversial or biased take to say that Houston has a better defense than Texas Tech. Ed Oliver will also be the best defensive player the Red Raiders see this year, also not a controversial take in my opinion. But going from Arizona and Rice to facing the passing offense of Texas Tech will be extraordinarily difficult. I don’t think there’s a worse match-up for the Coogs right now as we try and figure out who our starting cornerbacks are this season. I think Ed Oliver will cause havoc and this will be a very close game, but I’m hedging on my extraordinarily poor record picking against the Coogs and I’m saying 45-41 Red Raiders for the final.
Dustin: I agree with pretty much everything Sam said here, but I keep coming back to the fact that I think the gap in ability between UH’s defense and Tech’s defense is greater than the gap in ability between Tech’s offense and UH’s offense. So I think the Cougar defense gets one more stop and Houston wins, 48-41.