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#W2W4: Houston Cougars

This week's What To Watch For focuses on all of the things that Houston does well that Louisville doesn't.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports


As I've written in this space multiple times before, Louisville struggles to handle weakside/backside linebackers. This observation started three years ago when Ben Boulware stepped in for an injured starter and had the first big game of his career. Last year Arrius Moore had a career day for NC State at his weakside spot, also. Anyone remember Steven Daniels last year for BC? That backside linebacker spot has caused many issues for Louisville and I'm not sure they've figured out how to stop it.

Houston runs a 3-4 that is similar to Louisville's base defense under Todd Grantham. Steven Taylor mans the weakside inside spot that Stacy Thomas plays now and James Burgess filled for the last four years. As we saw with Burgess, Taylor is able to play a little more freely because he's on the backside of the formation and that allows him to fill holes in the run game as well as blitzing when his initial assignment stays in to block or runs a route outside of his zone. Taylor finished last year with 18.5 tackles for loss and he's on pass for double digits again this year. Louisville's offensive line has been much better this year but they still have so many issues when it comes to identifying where pressure is coming from as well as playing with their heads on a swivel and picking up second level or delayed blitzers. We've seen multiple teams exploit this weakness and Todd Orlando is a good enough defensive coordinator to do the same.


One of the biggest issues facing Louisville when it comes to the playoff is the fact that their schedule won't be able to match up to most of the teams being considered. The Houston game looked like a potential game of the year after they beat Houston but two losses to unranked team have derailed that possibility. While I still believe that this game will be a big enough game to help Louisville's resume, it will have an asterisk next to it for some because of the fact that Houston's best player isn't 100%. What's really unfortunate is the fact that anyone that follows Houston even from a far distance knows that Ward is always hurt. It's just a question of how hurt is he? I think that Ward will be healthy enough to run Houston's offense as well as he could if he was completely healthy. Houston doesn't ask him to throw the ball down the field a lot and he's really throwing a bunch of quick screens and slants.

Ward is really more of a threat as a runner in my opinion because it adds a wrinkle to how you have to defend him. That opens up some misdirection type pass plays as well as the potential for run/pass option plays that have become very popular over the last year. I haven't seen Houston run RPO plays this year but Tom Herman is the type of coach that can implement new things in a few days. Ward doesn't have a lot of games left in his career and he's a guy that is going to give it everything he's got. I think that even if he can't throw the ball as well as normal, he can extend plays with his legs and he can run the ball well between the tackles. Louisville can be exposed by those two things and Ward can be the hero.


For the second week in a row, Louisville's ability to value the football is something that could have a huge impact on the game. Wake Forest was one of the best team in the nation at forcing fumbles and they were good enough to pick off a pass or two if given the opportunity. Louisville played right into their hands with three lost fumbles. This gave Wake a short field multiple times and because they're Wake, they ended up with field goals. Houston will likely score touchdowns with those opportunities. While Houston hasn't forced a lot of turnovers this year, they led the nation last year as well as three years ago. They have players that hunt turnovers and they have a defensive coordinator that understands the importance.

When I wrote this similar section last week it was about the possibility that Louisville could make a game that should be a blowout closer than it should by turning the ball over. That's what last week was up until late in the game. Louisville finally opened things up but it brought some doubt from people and it made the game harder than it needed to be. Those harder games make guys play harder than they should which could cause injuries and it also makes it harder to get some backups in which is an important part of college football. Blowout games are important, in my opinion, and every team needs them. Louisville has missed some of those opportunities against Wake as well as Virginia. Houston isn't that type of game but instead of being able to put in backups, UofL could be looking at a game where they're playing from behind.


I like Tom Herman as a college football coach because I tend to like intense coaches who do fun tings off the field. Herman got a platinum grill this off season because he promised his team he would and during the game last year he bumped an official (I'm not a fan of that but he apologized immediately). Herman is they type of guy that you want when you're trying to energize a program because he knows offense (which fans love) and he knows how to get his players hyped up (which everyone loves). The issue facing Herman is the fact that he's everyone's pick for the next "hot name" coach. Herman has won a few big games in a short time and I truly think that his track record has earned him plenty of fanfare. But, he lost to SMU this year. He took over a program with a ton of talent including NFL-level guys. That includes a quarterback in Greg Ward that fits his system so perfectly that you can't help but question if he chose the job based on it. Those types of questions and general observations would make one wonder if he is being overrated in some areas. A win against Louisville's high powered offense and stout defense would help to add some zeroes to Herman's next contract.