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Opponent Breakdown: Houston Cougars Offense

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Greg Ward will be playing hurt this week but the Cougars have plenty of other skill players that could take over the game.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville has been on a run of playing teams that really struggle on the offensive side of the ball. Though Houston is not a high-powered by college football standards, they are one of the best offenses Louisville will face this year. The Cougars can do a lot of things that Louisville has struggled with this season and they actually have the skill and speed to take advantage of those things. Tom Herman is coach that a lot of schools will be calling this December and he could use a big win to add some money to whatever contract he signs after the season.

Early this year most people in football saw Lamar Jackson as a Heisman candidate along with Greg Ward. Ward played well against Oklahoma in the season opener and he made some really nice plays against Cincy to start the season with some very impressive numbers. However, as the season went on, Ward's numbers started to slip as he wasn't running the ball as well as he had in the past and he started to have issues protecting the ball. Ward is seemingly always playing hurt so it can be hard to tell when he's having an off game and when he's just banged up. He left last week's game with a right shoulder injury and Vegas doesn't have a line on the game because of it. This could mean that Louisville could be catching a big break playing against a quarterback that could struggle just to throw the ball. Houston's backup broke his arm in the same game so Ward's backup will be true freshman D'Eriq King who has been playing receiver all year.

Ward is completing nearly 70% of his passes this year and his lack of deep accuracy actually helps the offense in my opinion. Houston runs a ton of plays and runs the ball just well enough to get themselves in good position on third downs. They also convert a lot of third downs. Teams have done a good job of controlling the clock a few times this season and Louisville has had to rely on their defense to get some much needed stops as well as the offense taking cre of their end when they have the ball. Houston has the ability to score much easier than a Wake Forest, Duke, or UVA. Those teams protected the ball pretty well and moved the ball down the field with timely first downs and a couple of big plays. A game like that would be perfect for a Houston team that is an "offense-first" type of team.

The running backs for Houston have not been able to replicate the success that Kenneth Farrow had last year in Tom Herman's offense. Duke Catalon is a transfer from Texas who looked pretty solid against Oklahoma in the opener but has been slowed by injuries. Catalon is a big kid who runs through arm tackles pretty well and falls forward at the end of runs. Dillon Birden is the faster of the two running backs and he's a guy that might have enough speed to run horizontal against a Louisville defense that has killed teams that look to get outside. King will also be used on jet sweeps at times and he has some real game breaking ability that is just waiting to be let loose. Houston has options when it comes to running the ball. Not many teams can throw four guys at you that can be deployed in so many different ways. Louisville hasn't been dominant as a run defense consistently, but they have forced a lot more negative plays later in the season and they could put the clamps on a running offense that hasn't been very good this year.

Like the running back group, the Houston receivers have multiple options at their disposal. The very big difference between the groups is that the receivers have been very productive and they can all go for a big game at any given time. Steven Dunbar is third on the team in targets but he went off against Oklahoma in their first game this year. Linell Bonner is the team leader in catches and yards and he is the guy that can really rack up a lot of catches and yards after the catch. Chance Allen is the leader in yards per catch and he has the size and speed to get down the sideline for a big play. He is also a good red zone target who can elevate to catch the ball. Houston will throw a good amount of quick outs and screens like Clemson but they don't really have the dynamic short area players like Clemson does this season. These guys are legit receivers that have made a lot of nice plays this year. Louisville has to make sound tackles and they have to make sure they stay with these guys when Greg Ward extends the play.

The offensive line for the Cougs is the weak point of the offense. Houston has given up a ton of sacks. Some of those sacks are due to Ward trying to extend plays, but far too many times the line has collapsed too quickly and trapped Ward inside. They also haven't done a great job opening holes for the running game. Herman had to plug in three guys that had very little or no experience this year and that included both tackle spots. Louisville has been much better at getting pressure and penetration over the last few games and Houston has been bad at stopping both. Something has to give.

KEY PLAYERS: QB Greg Ward, WR Linell Bonner, WR Steven Dunbar, WR Chance Allen, RG Marcus Oliver