Record: 12-1 (AAC Champs)
Record Against FSU: 12-2-2
Head Coach Tom Herman
Herman is in his first year at Houston, and has the Cougars playing at a very high level. He was previously the offensive coordinator at Ohio State for their march to the National Championship in 2014.
You can find a complete statistical breakdown of the two teams here.
Players to Watch For Houston
QB Greg Ward Jr.: 207-304 for 2,590 yards 16 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. 178 rushes for 1,041 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Ward is Houston's leading passer and rusher. He's a dynamite athlete that excels at making people miss in the open field. He's not just a runner though. He can sit in the pocket and beat a team with his arm as well as his feet. At 5-foot-11, 185-pounds he doesn't have optimal size for a quarterback, but he does a good job of finding throwing lanes.
WR Demarcus Ayers: 89 receptions for 1,140 yards and 6 touchdowns. 19 carries for 130 yards and 1 touchdown. 25 punt returns for 282 yards and 1 touchdown.
Ayers is another dynamic weapon for the Houston offense. He is the primary target in the passing game for Ward Jr., and is also one of the top punt returners in the country. Ayers isn't a physical receiver, and lacks size at 5-foot-11, 190-pounds, but he makes up for it with elite speed and great hands.
LB Elandon Roberts: 132 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 4 pass break ups, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 interception.
If you look for the ball while Houston is on defense you will undoubtably find linebacker Elandon Roberts nearby. He is a tackling machine that causes havoc in the backfield for opposing offenses. He's more of a downhill linebacker than a coverage linebacker at 6-foot, 235-pounds, but he's got great instincts for both.
LB Steven Taylor: 86 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, and 1 blocked kick.
Taylor is another linebacker that is always around the ball. He's Houston's leader in sacks, and is second in tackles and tackles for loss. He's an outside linebacker with good instincts, and a great first step off the edge.
Keys To The Game
1. Get Dalvin Cook going.
The Florida State offense has relied on Dalvin Cook all season long, and they will do so again on Thursday. Cook is the leading single season rusher in Florida State history, and needs just two touchdowns to tie the single season touchdown record. Cook will be the best player on the field for either team, and if Florida State can establish the running game it will be a long day for the Houston defense.
2. Contain Greg Ward Jr.
Florida State has done an excellent job this season containing mobile quarterbacks, bu Greg Ward Jr. is an animal all to himself. He is the only quarterback in the country with 2,500 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing. Florida State will look to keep him in the pocket and make him beat them with his arm.
3. Don't turn the ball over.
Houston gives up a ton of yards, but makes up for it with their ball-hawking defense. They have forced 30 turnovers this season, and are third in the country in turnover margin at 17.
1. Win the special teams battle.
Florida State has had one of the best punter/kicker combinations in the country this year (I know FSU fans. I know), but their punt return unit has been one of the worst in the country. They haven't been especially effective at limiting punt returns either. Houston will need to win the field position, and probably get a special teams touchdown.
2. Get the ball to Ayers in space.
Ayers is a dynamic athlete, but he will be going up against two of the best cornerbacks in the country in this game. Houston will need to scheme ways to get him into space to take advantage of his elusiveness.
3. Don't turn the ball over.
This is always a key to the game, but with the size and talent advantage that Florida State has, Houston can't afford to give up possessions. Florida State hasn't been great at forcing turnovers this year with only 14, but this will be the fastest defense Houston has faced all season. Windows that would normally be there won't be.
Florida State has size advantages up front on both sides of the ball, and more talent overall on the field. I do not believe that Houston will be able to stop Dalvin Cook, and that will be a major problem for the Cougar defense. Cook has had time to get healthy after playing with hamstring and ankle injuries for most of the season. Cook's running will open up the pass for the Seminole offense, and Sean Maguire has progressed enough as a quarterback to make a team pay if they try to stack the box against Cook.
On defense I expect Houston to have a couple big plays, but not enough to keep them in the game. The Florida State defense has been exceptional at stopping mobile quarterbacks this season, and I expect to see this trend continue. Especially with the progression of Derwin James, who has been used as a pass rusher, safety, and spy this season.
This isn't a good matchup for Houston overall, and I think that shows on Thursday. I have the Seminoles winning 35-17.