Know the Foe: The Houston Cougars

The Cougars of BYU will host the Cougars of Houston tonight at LaVell Edwards Stadium. TotalBlueSports.com caught up with Scout.com’s Houston Cougar publisher Jimmy Schofield who breaks down match-ups.

Question: What do you think the Houston Cougar defense needs to do to stop BYU's prolific offense and secure the win?

“Defensively, the Coogs need to keep Taysom Hill in the pocket and force him to beat them passing, even though he carved us up last season to the tune of 417 yards on 29 of 44 passing,” said Schofield. “That 59.9 completion percentage isn’t nearly as impressive as his 71.9 percentage this season through two games. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs won’t have Hill running around, over and through his defenders like he did last season when he ran for 128 yards. Most of his runs this season have come once he’s pulled the ball down and had to improvise once his pass protection broke down. Gibbs won’t blitz him too often as he’ll rush mainly with his defensive line and maybe a linebacker or two. He’ll employ various zone and man free coverages in the back end in order to confuse Hill as he did toss 3 interceptions in last season’s game. They’ll also stack the box with 7 or sometimes 8 defenders in order to stop the run on early downs, setting up 3rd and long situations where it’ll be easier to blitz. If BYU is in 3rd and short over and over it’s going to be a long night for the visiting Cougars in red.”

Question: On the offensive side of the ball what does the UH offense need to do against BYU's defense in order to come away with a victory.

Offensively, again, it’s all about 3rd down,” said Schofield. “The Cougs are 8 for 30 this season for a meager 27-percent, mainly due to most of their 3rd downs being more than 6 yards. The lack of a running game has put them “behind the chains” too often this season. This needs to be corrected if they hope to pull off the upset Thursday night. The short passing game needs to act as an extension of the run game. A 4 or 5 yard completion off of a swing pass on 1st down should be considered a victory. If the run game produces a yard or 2 setting up 2nd and long the Coogs, again, are in for a long night.

Question: Who are some of the more prolific players within the UH offense. Who on the UH Cougar offense, either those who played last year or are newcomers, should BYU fans know about?

“Obviously, as with all teams, it all starts with the quarterback and UH is no different with John O’Korn,” said Schofield. “Coming off a superb true freshman season in which he passed for 28 TDs to only 10 interceptions, he’s gotten off to a surprisingly struggling start as he’s passed for 1 TD to 4 interceptions and is averaging 202 passing yards per game, completing only 52 percent of his passes. Last season he torched BYU for 363 yards, completing 29 for 44 passes with 3 TDs. The receiver all UH opponents scheme against is slot receiver Deontay Greenberry. Their first 5-star recruit is playing as just that, as he’s averaged just over 100 yards receiving in both games. When rushing, the duo carrying the load will be Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson. They’ve both struggled so far on the young season as they’ve combine to average only 100 yards per game toting the rock. Farrow is more the “thunder” of the duo, weighing in at 215 pounds while Jackson is the “lightning” as he’s more elusive along the edges.”

Question: On the defensive side of the ball, who on the UH defense should BYU fans know about as well?

“One newcomer who’s making an impact thus far is strong side defensive end Gavin Stansbury,” said Schofield. “He transferred from Texas A&M just a few months ago and he’s more than held his own against the run. Anchoring the D-line is big Joey Mbu at one tackle spot, and the threesome of Trevor Harris, Tyus Bowser and Eric Eiland at the rush backer spot have put decent pressure on opposing QBs through two games. They’ll need to keep containment against Hill and not allow him to improvise on the run. One player under the radar is reserve defensive tackle Jeremiah Farley. He’s “only” 6-foot, 280 pounds which is undersized for a tackle, but he always seems to out leverage his opponent forcing his way into the backfield. Almost every game it seems he has at least one tackle-for-loss.”

Question: Who are the standouts on the defensive line, among the linebackers, and the secondary groups?

“The defensive line’s job in Gibbs scheme is to maintain gap integrity allowing the linebackers to shoot those gaps to make the tackles, and Mike and Sam linebackers Derrick Mathews and Efrem Oliphant definitely oblige,” said Schofield. “Many BYU fans remember Mathews from last season’s game as he flew all over the field to the tune of 12 tackles (4 for loss), 3 sacks and an interception he returned 29 yards for a TD. Oliphant came out of nowhere last season as he was third string at the end of spring ball only to impress enough over summer to earn a starting spot. He led the D with 134 tackles last season and is tied with Mathews with 23 this season through two games.

“The secondary is led by safeties Trevon Stewart and Adrian McDonald. Both are on the smaller side (shorter than 5’10 and weighing less than 190 pounds), but both have high football IQs and are always around the ball making plays. Stewart is a ball hawk as he led the nation last season with 10 takeaways on his own (6 fumble recoveries and 4 interceptions). Both have 12 tackles this season with McDonald adding an interception and fumble recovery. Both starting corners (who have graduated) were picked on in last season’s BYU/UH game as they were shorter than 6-foot, but that’s not the case this year with Lee Hightower and William Jackson. Hightower is a transfer from Boise St. who’s physical at the line of scrimmage and Jackson doesn’t back down even in man coverage.”

Question: What does the UH offense do well with their current personnel? Talk about the style of offense UH runs. Also, talk about what the UH defense does well and the style of defense the Houston Cougars play.

“Offensively the Coogs used to run a pure “Air Raid” scheme which was based on getting the ball out of the QBs hands quickly,” said Schofield. “The receivers were smaller but quicker and the scheme was designed to get the ball in their hands quickly in space. First year full time offensive coordinator Travis Bush told me over the off-season that his offense was no longer a pure Air Raid but more of a multiple offense that wanted to be “balanced” between the run and pass game. This shift in philosophy per head coach Tony Levine was based off moving to the American Athletic Conference, where the teams were bigger and more physical than what they had been facing in Conference USA. They still run an up-tempo style but the passing game has been off so far due to wide receiver routes being more down the field, which take longer to develop. If Bush hopes to get his offense on track he must get his offensive line to give O’Korn more time in the pocket. Travis Cross started last week at left tackle and brought more stability to O’Korn’s blind side. He transferred in from Oklahoma State over the off-season. The other new starters include juniors Alex Cooper at right tackle and Ben Dew (a transfer from Hawaii) at left guard. The mainstays on the line are seniors Bryce Redman at center and Rowdy Harper at right guard.

“Defensively, Gibbs runs a base 4-3 scheme but will go multiple as he’ll employ a “Bear” 5-2 front where he brings both Mathews and Oliphant over the tackles along the line. With bigger corners, look for Gibbs to have his unit blitzing more this season, though maybe not in this game (or at least I wouldn’t). The “Third Ward Defense” has actually carried the team over the past season plus with their penchant for forcing turnovers as they were first nationally last season in turnover margin. They’ve struggled in that area this season and need to force BYU’s offense into some turnovers creating a shorter field for their offense. Also, in order to win Thursday night they must be able to stop BYU’s pounding run game, the type of offense that has given them problems in the past.”

Question: What is your final score prediction?

“The Coogs usually play up to their competition while being an underdog,” said Schofield. “And with the game being televised nationally on ESPN, I think it’ll be close early on. However, ultimately the Cougars in blue will prevail as they’ll wear down the Cougars in red as they’re bigger physically at just about every position. Final Score – BYU 28 UH 17.


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