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WTWF: Houston Cougars

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This week's What to Watch For ponders which defense will have the better day.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports


Lamar Jackson took over for Reggie Bonnafon and really electrified the fans with his open field running ability and scrambling. Greg Ward was equally impressive in Houston's last week, running for 101 yards and two scores. Ward, who played receiver in the past for Houston, is a more experienced player at the college level but Jackson is a much better overall athlete. It will be interesting to see which defense is able to contain their opposing quarterback better. Louisville has one of the most talented defenses in the country, but they have only faced one running quarterback for a full game and Deshaun Watson for a short time. It's tough to say how they will handle a player that can make people miss like West and also run by them. Houston allowed 160 rushing yards to the last true running quarterback they faced when Taysom Hill and BYU ran wild last year.

We don't know what type of offense Bobby Petrino will deploy with Lamar Jackson as his full time starter, but I would imagine that it will be similar to what we saw against Auburn. Petrino likes to keep his offense balanced if possible, so I don't think that we will see a ton of designed quarterback runs or a very different offense at all from what we've seen before. If Houston can't keep contain and force Jackson to stay in the pocket, he will have a good chance to have a big day running the ball.


Statistically, Louisville's run defense was very stout last year, but those numbers were partially skewed by the lost yardage from sacks. In reality, Louisville has allowed a 100 yard rusher in five of the last six games they've played including 109 to Auburn's third string running back last week. Houston will be a great opportunity for Louisville to get back to where they were the first half of last season.

Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson are good running backs but they aren't the talents that have gashed Louisville for half a season and into this one. That talent can't be discounted because even Duke Johnson ran for 90 yards before Louisville's troubles started. The front seven could really used a good game against the run with a suspect Clemson running game lined up next week.


It was a fluke but some questions still remain. The Cougars gave up three really big passing plays to Brock McCoin and all three were blown coverages. One was a pop pass on the last play of the game that left McCoin completely uncovered. Another was a safety not replacing the robber on a simple zone coverage. And the other was another pop pass that the free safety bit on, once again leaving McCoin wide open. Outside of those plays the defense played very well and the secondary only allowed two other completions where they got "beat". They made mistakes that tend to happen in first games and if Tom Herman and his staff are worth their paychecks they should have no trouble correcting the issues with a veteran secondary.

The questions with Houston's secondary are more aligned with their lack of a pass rush. They don't ask much of their defensive linemen but they struggled to even get a little penetration to maybe even disrupt the quarterback's vision. Houston has to blitz to get pressure and that is never a good thing. That also puts pressure on the corners and safeties. Lamar Jackson didn't have a lot of opportunities to stand in the pocket and throw, but when he did he looked pretty good on slants and underneath routes. We could see the same this weekend.


The offensive line is in a similar situation as the run defense as it has an opportunity to improve this weekend against a team that doesn't excel in certain areas. Houston doesn't have a great pass rush and they don't have extremely disruptive defensive linemen. Auburn started off the game last week absolutely dominating the line of scrimmage and Louisville couldn't get the running game going. Though the pass blocking was much better, Reggie Bonnafon found himself having to rush a few throws because of a free rusher in his face. The line played better in the second half with a much more mobile Lamar Jackson, but they also didn't have to go against Carl Lawson who was injured. They also went against an Auburn defense that played a safer zone defense to protect the lead.

Houston is the perfect opportunity to set the tone early and get the running game moving. It's also a solid challenge because Houston tries to create pressure with pre-snap alignment and creative blitzes. Confidence is a big factor in college football. There's no way that Chris Klenakis had a lot of nice things to say in the film room this week. If the line can improve against Houston it could lead to some positive coaching instead of the constant fixing of issues that I'm sure has been happening since last year.