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Ask the Expert: Houston

For the second year in a row, our buddies at S&H Pawdcast answered questions ahead of our game with the Cougars.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

What a weird start to the season it’s been. We started off against Ole Miss and were simply abysmal, but rallied back against Lamar and played a complete game. Unfortunately, I think we’re closer to what we saw against Ole Miss, but this week will show us a lot. Houston destroyed Arizona last week, and frankly that’s terrifying. From a 4-Star/5-Star talent perspective, Houston’s managed to load up with elite skill players (oh, and Ed Oliver LOL). So, Tech will need to play a great game to win this one.

I will point out that at least this game isn’t at 11am, which is a win. Also, there’s a weird rivalry brewing over Houston not letting us wear white jerseys on CELEBRATE COTTON DAY. The pettiness of that move is fantastic, and I hope it somehow fires up the squad. Before we dive into the Q/A, a special thank you to the S&H Pawdcast - follow those guys on twitter.

Through two games we’ve seen several offensive concepts from the “Briles” playbook executed very well. We all know that the goal of this offense is to isolate receivers, and produce light boxes for the running game to expose defenses. How is D’Eriq King looking so far, and what can we expect from the stable of running backs you’ve trotted out so far?

D’Eriq has looked great so far; it’s hard to argue with a hair under 10 yards per attempt, 10 total TDs (7 pass, 3 rush), and no picks. We knew that his development this year was going to be a huge x-factor in how far this Cougar team could go, and he has the benefit of having been healthy in fall camp, having been the clear-cut QB1 in fall camp, and (obligatory comment about the unsavory-ness of the Kendal Briles hire aside) having a talented, aggressive offensive mind directing the offense - none of which was the case last year. So through two games, King sure looks like he has taken a step forward from being the promising, but raw talent we saw last year to the all-conference kind of level we believed he was capable of. He’s looked so good, Ed Oliver is telling people that D’Eriq should be the one getting Heisman hype. And if Cougar receivers hadn’t had a few egregious drops in the Arizona game, King’s numbers would be even better. Can you tell I’m excited about D’Eriq King? I’m excited about D’Eriq King.

The running back situation is really interesting, because the conventional wisdom heading into the season was that Baylor transfer Terence Williams would be “the guy” with power runner Mulbah Car continuing his role as the #2, but the heretofore buried on the depth chart Patrick Carr has gotten just as many 1st-team reps and arguably looked like the best of the trio. Regardless of who is taking hand-offs, the Cougar run game relies on an offensive line that has looked great in pass protection, and extremely hit-or-miss in the run game.

Another year, another obligatory question on Ed Oliver. It’s hard to fathom that he’s averaging 9 tackles per game. What have you seen this year from him, and what can Tech do to stop him? (if possible)

The craziest thing about Ed Oliver is he looked like a really good 4th year junior when he was taking his first snaps against Oklahoma in 2016. The highest learning curve for guys (even consensus 5 stars) seems to be at the interior line positions. Yet Oliver has been an elite player from the word go. If you look at Ndamukong Suh’s senior year numbers and Oliver’s freshman year numbers, they’re comparable... which is CRAZY.

He possesses a size/speed combination that is rare at his position along with the best motor I’ve ever seen on a college player. He has commanded double and triple teams since 2016 and as you mentioned is still averaging 9 tackles per game. An added bonus is how those double and triple teams can free up other guys on a talented Cougar defensive line.

There’s obviously no trick to stopping Oliver, if he’s healthy. However I think Texas Tech throws a lot of quick passes that’ll somewhat neutralize any opposing pass rusher. I think also the Red Raider offensive line will be the best one the Coogs see in the regular season. We’re both fairly familiar with what Kingsbury wants to do generally and I imagine it won’t be very much in the way of 5 or 10 step drops in the face if Ed Oliver.

I’ve been very impressed with Marquez Stevenson thus far. I know he came to Houston touted highly, and had offers from everywhere. But, thus far he’s averaging close to 30 yards per touch. That’s absolutely insane - is he dominating teams, or has it been fluke plays?

I think it’s a combination of a very small sample size, and Marquez having made some really impressive plays through two games. He has shown an exciting combination of crazy speed, and the ability to fight for yards after contact. His two prior years on campus have seen him play in two games due to a broken collarbone and a torn ACL, so we’re all just praying for a year of health for Marquez, and if he gets that, we both think he’s going to be a star.

What do you feel like are Houston’s best matchups heading into Saturday?

I’ll give the caveat for everything I say here that I am judging Texas Tech on an extremely limited sample size. That makes it especially like what I’ll say here could be hilariously wrong in hindsight... but here it goes.

I think the Cougar offense is like an even faster paced version of what Ole Miss runs and the Rebels didn’t have too much trouble moving the ball in the opening weekend. I know the Red Raider secondary is already starting to experience some injuries and was definitely the weaker part of the 2017 defense. D’Eriq King has the arm to challenge the Red Raider secondary deep early and often, which will certainly happen Saturday. This is a fairly inexperienced Cougar receiving corps, but one that is not short on ability and will challenge the Red Raiders frequently on Saturday.

Last year was fairly disappointing for Houston fans, relative to recent seasons. What’s the pulse on Major Applewhite right now?

Major Applewhite is not under “accomplish x this year or you’re outta here” pressure, but there is a lot of pressure to win this year. It’s his last year with Ed Oliver, he brought in 5 grad transfers, he re-associated the name Briles with the school, and the university remains in “put on your best face for the next round of conference realignment” mode at all times. And while opinion is mixed across the fan base, there are plenty of people who never liked the hire in the first place, and will turn on him at any opportunity. But, he took the important step of fully turning the offense over to the offensive coordinator, and becoming CEO Major Applewhite, which is what he needed to do. He’d be on a hot seat heading into next season if the team goes 8-4, but I don’t think that will happen.

Are there any key injuries or suspensions for the Cougars?

Two of the grad transfers UH brought in: inside linebacker Darrion Owens and receiver Raelon Singleton have basically missed the first two games. Owens will 100% be out on Saturday and until probably early October. Singleton didn’t dress in the opener against Rice and dressed but didn’t see the field much (or maybe at all) versus Arizona. Singleton was coming into this season as Utah’s top returning receiver, but elected to return home to Houston and use his last year of eligibility.

This regime, dating back to the guy who now coaches at the school in Austin, has been tremendously hush hush about injuries and suspensions but to my knowledge the Cougars have been able to stay pretty healthy leading into week 3.

Score Prediction?

I don’t like making predictions, but when pressed into it before the season, I picked Houston to go 10-2 with losses to Tech and Navy. That being said, Houston has looked better than I expected through two games, and Tech looked less good against Ole Miss than I expected, and I’m basically discounting Lamar because I agree with Broderick Washington. So, to paraphrase Lee Corso, eff it, I’m picking Houston, 38-30.