Houston Scouting Report: Special Teams

With the BBVA Compass Bowl rapidly approaching, get to know the Houston Cougars in greater depth and detail. Today, we'll begin by examining UH's special teams profile. In parts two and three of this series, we'll look at the Cougars' offense and defense.


BBVA COMPASS BOWL SCOUTING REPORT:

HOUSTON'S SPECIAL TEAMS UNITS


Houston's special teams units will offer Vanderbilt a challenge on the first Saturday of 2014. The Cougars have to feel very confident about the resources they'll bring to the table in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Houston's offense failed to convert a lot of third downs and maintain possession of the ball this season. Accordingly, Houston's defense spent more time on the field than it would have liked to in 2013. Why did UH's defense not hemorrhage points? Why did this team remain extremely competitive against the three best teams in its conference (UCF, Louisville and Cincinnati)?

Two words: Richie Leone.

The Houston punter – who handled placekicking duties for much of the season before being relieved by Kyle Bullard – was good enough to earn an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game. Joseph Duarte of The Houston Chronicle noted Leone's contributions in this excerpt from a story posted on Dec. 17: "A Ray Guy Award semifinalist for three straight seasons, Leone averaged 43.1 yards on 63 punts this season. He had 52.4 percent of his punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line and 22.2 percent inside the 10-yard line, both tops in the American Athletic Conference. Last week, Leone was named to the All-American Athletic second team."

Vanderbilt's task against Houston's defense is not going to be easy in the first place, but if the Commodores have to march the ball 85 yards or more to score touchdowns, they'll face even more of an uphill climb. If they are repeatedly pinned deep by Leone, they will simply have to win this game with a very low score. The defense will probably have to stand on its head or something close to it.

In terms of field goal kicking, the Cougars don't have a starter with extensive experience this season, but within a small sample size, they can't complain about the results they've received. Kyle Bullard – mentioned above – relieved Leone as Houston's kicker on Oct. 31 against South Florida. He attempted only five field goals in five games, but he made all five of those kicks. It's true that only one of his field goal attempts was longer than 29 yards, but he made that one boot, a 46-yarder against Louisville on Nov. 16. To the extent that Bullard was asked to perform by head coach Tony Levine, he excelled. Will this bowl game thrust an extra layer of pressure on Bullard's shoulders (and his foot)? Vanderbilt certainly hopes so… but the Commodores can't bank on such a scenario. The better course of action is to outclass the Cougars enough that UH doesn't get a chance to line up a game-winning field goal in the final minutes.

A final note: If you're wondering about the Cougars' kick return and kick coverage units, Houston has scored one touchdown on a kick return this season (a kickoff return). The Cougars have not allowed a kick return for a touchdown in 2013.

Commodores Daily Top Stories