Opponent Breakdown: Houston Cougars

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Levine brings his high powered offense into Papa John's Cardinal Stadium for the first Saturday night game for the Cardinals in he last few years.

The Houston Cougars had a chance to set up one of the biggest games The Oven has seen in years this past weekend. They blew it. The Cougars faced off against UCF and had all of Cardnation glued to their televisions hoping for an upset. The Cougars couldn't get their offense in any kind of rhythm until late in the game and UCF was able to hold on for the win. Houston still makes more big plays than anyone in the country on both sides of the ball. They hope that the propensity for Louisville to be susceptible to the big play will lead them to the upset this time around.

OFFENSE:

Kevin Sumlin's former stomping grounds kept one thing when he left for Texas A&M. His spread offense. Coach Tony Levine went from the special teams coordinator in 2011 to the head coach. Levine's staff is obviously comprised of completely different coaches than Sumlin, but they have a similar background. These guys love to score points and they love to do it as quickly as they possible can. Houston puts up nearly 40 points and 500 yards a game in only 27 minutes. They don't want to allow the defense time to adjust on the fly, and it has worked very well for them. Their offense is one of the best in the country.

Louisville will face a true freshman quarterback for the second straight week. It'll be night and day. John O'Korn will more than likely end up on a handful of freshman all-american lists (Second team behind Jameis). O'Korn stepped in midway through the second game of the season and has played like a veteran. He's had his down games like any young player but he has looked unbelievably polished for the vast majority of the season. He doesn't turn the ball over very often and he will tuck and run if need be to make sure he's getting positive yardage instead of wasting a down.

UCF's defense did a great job of putting players in the face and passing lanes of O'Korn last week. The environment and speed of the defense seemed to bother the young quarterback a little bit. He rushed a few throws to his check downs and locked onto receivers instead of going through his progressions. UCF switched between keeping everything in front of them (like they did against Louisville) and gambling with man coverage across the board. Switching things up worked extremely well and Houston had no answer until it was too late.

The Cougars have somewhat of a "thunder and lightning" attack with speedster Ryan Jackson and bruiser Kenneth Farrow. Jackson is the starter with Farrow spelling him throughout the game. It seems like the coaches have somewhat of a package situation going on with Farrow at times also. Both backs can also catch the ball out of the backfield which is something that could be a big issue for the Louisville defense. Jackson ran the 100 meters in 10.3 seconds in high school. A back like that in space doesn't bode well for a defense that plays as aggressively as the Cardinals. Over-pursuit could be an issue and Jackson and Farrow could find some easy cutback lanes to take advantage of.

Louisville's starting corners have done a much better job this year of taking away big plays and playing aggressively. They will be asked to do the same this week, but Houston really does it's damage in the slot. Deontay Greenberry averages over 100 yards a game and has about as many catches as Louisville's top two pass catchers combined. He primarily lines up in the slot and he has a knack for getting across the face of the defender. He's a big kid that can muscle his way past a safety or run away from a linebacker. Louisville likes to play man coverage. It'll be interesting to see who the use to cover Greenberry. I expect to see some bracket coverage with Jermaine Reve and James Burgess. Bedford might just put the trust in his defense to let Reve and Andrew Johnson man up against the big play receiver, though.

Houston entered the UCF game as the national leader in yards after catch. Louisville didn't tackle well at all in it's other big game this year so it is obviously a concern for them to be going up against an offense that does so well in the open field. The Cougars had a ton of costly drops last week from guys that had the space to do some serious damage. Louisville can't allow that to happen this week. I'm sure Ron Dugans wasn't the only wide receiver coach that was unhappy with his group's performance last week. Houston's receivers make this offense go and I would imagine they spent some extra time in front of the jugs machine this week.

The Cougars offensive line is a veteran group of guys that do a pretty good job seeing as they're in a new system for the third straight year. People don't tend to worry much about how much the offensive line has to adjust to new systems, pace, run game philosophy, and other factors. It's something that should get more attention. Houston protects the quarterback pretty well and they have a very potent run game when they get it going. The games they've seemed to struggle in are the games where they've abandoned the run game. Defenses have pinned their ears back and gone after the quarterback knowing they didn't have to maintain their lanes. Not much your line can do when they're going up against that all game long.

KEY PLAYERS: QB John O'Korn, WR Deontay Greenberry, WR Daniel Spencer, LG Rowdy Harper

DEFENSE:

Houston leads the nation in turnover margin. By a lot. They have made a staggering amount of big plays on defense including forcing two redzone turnovers on UCF's first two drives last weekend. The negative for this defense is the fact that without those turnovers, they would more than likely be one of the worst defenses Louisville faced this year. They give up a ton of yardage and they don't make a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage. They've managed to keep teams out of the endzone which has led to the 7-2 record they bring into The Oven Saturday.

Houston's defense spends a lot of time on the field due to it's quick strike offense. That means the coaches have had to develop depth across the line. Eric Braswell and Joey Mbu have been mainstays for the last couple of years, but young guys like Tyus Browser have seen themselves become situational pass rushers early in their careers. The defensive line needs to be able to do something to make Teddy Bridgewater uncomfortable if they want to have much of a chance, but they also need to be able to expose the gaps on Louisville's outside runs. UConn did a great job of beating the blockers to the spot last week and Louisville had an awful game running the ball.

Houston's linebackers are legit. Derrick Matthews and Efram Oliphant are everywhere. The line does a good job of keeping them clean and they do a good job of using their speed to get to the point of attack. They could both have big games this week if Louisville tries to establish a run game. Shooting gaps and disrupting plays are what these guys excel at and what Louisville is susceptible to. One issue that comes with that aggression is that it opens you up to being eaten alive by play action. We all know that Shawn Watson loves to get Teddy moving and he likes to use play action to open up the middle of the field. Houston's entire defense tends to flow on run plays so it could be a major issue if they can't stop from over-pursuing.

Travon Stewart is probably the best player in the conference that you haven't heard of. The sophomore is responsible for eight takeaways this year and he can play all over the field like an Ed Reed type. He's undersized like everyone else on this defense and just like everyone else, he makes an ungodly amount of tackles. He had 126 last season and sits at 71 so far this year. The secondary is extremely experienced with four guys that started last season. The lack of size could be an issue in the redzone if Teddy and DeVante Parker get their timing back on the fade route that worked so well earlier in the season. William Jackson is the only player over six feet. However, he's a slight 175 pounds.

KEY PLAYERS: MLB Derrick Matthews, WLB Efram Oliphant, SS Adrian McDonald, FS Travon Stewart

Notes:

  • Tony Levine fired his offensive Coordinator after his first game as the head coach.
  • Houston has a player named Rowdy.
  • John O'Korn was allegedly offered a scholarship before he ever played a varsity game.
  • Louisville and Houston's time of possession numbers are almost exactly flipped.
  • Houston's defense has over 200 more tackles than Louisville's.
  • Veteran cornerback Zach McMillian will have to sit for the first half after being ejected for an awful tageting call last week.
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