With only three games left in the season, the Houston Cougars look to keep a one-game lead in the American Athletic Conference West Division as they play host to AAC foe Temple this Saturday at 6 p.m. in TDECU Stadium.
Key One: Pass the football
The Cougars enter this week still holding onto the conference’s top passing offense, and they still rank in the top 15 nationally, averaging 315.9 yards per game. Starting quarterback D’Eriq King ranks 13th in the country in passing yards (2,578 yards). King has thrown for 30 touchdowns this season, ranking first in the conference and fourth in the NCAA.
Temple counters with the conference’s best passing defense, only allowing 165.8 yards per contest and a total of 12 touchdowns. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin leads the team in passes intercepted and sits third in the AAC in passes defended. Temple is also tied for third in the American in sacks, having taken down the quarterback 23 times this season.
In the first half of the Cougars’ game against SMU, the Cougars completely abandoned the passing game. King only attempted eight passes, completing two, for 56 yards in the first half of the game. This included a 50-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marquez Stevenson. Houston would ultimately fall 45-31 against SMU with King attempting 22 passes, completing 11, for 175 yards.
The Cougars’ offense has always used the run to set up the pass, but the team seemingly ventured away from its strength. This ultimately cost them the game and put them in a tough position in the conference standings.
Key Two: Keep the home field advantage
The Houston Cougars have only lost five games in 31 contests at TDECU stadium. This includes the 2015 American Athletic Conference Championship where UH took down the Temple Owls 24-13. Since 2014, Houston has averaged 38.3 points per game while in the friendly confines of TDECU stadium, allowing 19.4 points per game to opponents.
This season, the team is a perfect 4-0 at home, averaging 53.25 points per game and giving up a total of 94 points. In their five road games this season, the Cougars have allowed 38.2 points per game and scored an average of 43.2 points per game. UH has rushed for 223 more yards at home than on the road in one less game.
King also thrives when at home. He has completed 66 percent of his passes at TDECU versus only 60 percent when on the road. He also has run for more yards (276) at home than on the road (191).
Key Three: Score when in the red zone
The Cougars have entered the red zone 39 times so far this season and have managed to score points in 34 tries, for an 87 percent clip. Houston has found pay dirt 31 times, with 14 rushing scores and 17 passing touchdowns. The team has turned the ball over twice on downs when in the red zone but has never turned the ball over via an interception or fumble.
Temple currently sits in the top spot in red zone defense, allowing a slim 72 percent scoring rate to opponents. The Owls have limited opponents to only 19 touchdowns, with ten on the ground and nine in the air. The key stat is that they have forced two interceptions and stopped opponents on downs twice.
Points will be crucial in this game as the Cougars take on the conference’s third-best scoring defense. Temple allows a mere 24.3 points per game on the season.
The No. 17 Houston Cougars (7-1, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) travel up the I-45 corridor to take on the SMU Mustangs (3-5, 2-2 AAC) this Saturday at 6 p.m. Here are three keys to victory for the Cougars this weekend.
Key One: Keep the Offense Rolling
Junior Quarterback D’Eriq King and the Cougars come into the contest with the nation’s leading offense, averaging 571.1 yards per game. Houston also ranks second in scoring offense (49.8 ppg) and seventh in passing offense (333.5 ypg.)
King is coming off of a seven-touchdown performance against nationally-ranked South Florida. The Cougars signal caller ranks third in the country with 28 passing touchdowns, and ranks 12th nationally in yards per game passing (300.4 ypg.)
On the ground, the Cougars rank 12th nationally with 237.6 yards per game. Houston features a three-headed rushing attack with junior running back Patrick Carr pacing the team with 475 yards on the season.
King is also second on the team in rushing, averaging 51.4 yards per game on the ground. He has also found pay dirt 11 times rushing the football.
SMU counters defensively with the AAC’s eighth-ranked defense against the pass. The Mustangs allow 238.5 yards per game through the air. Against the run, SMU allows an average of 182.8 yards per game, ranking sixth in the AAC.
SMU is also ranked 11th in the conference in scoring defense, allowing opponents to score an average of 35.9 points per contest.
The Cougars need to continue the offensive momentum they have built; then they will be able to roll over the Mustangs in Dallas this Saturday.
Key Two: Stop the Passing Attack
The lone strength that SMU has is their passing game. The Mustangs have averaged 250.4 yards per game through the air this season. Starting quarterback Ben Hicks is coming off of a 328-yard performance against AAC East foe Cincinnati.
The redshirt junior field general has thrown for 1,325 yards on the season, averaging 165.6 yards per game. SMU has also featured true freshman quarterback William Brown in seven games this season. His biggest performance came against Houston Baptist, in which he totaled 309 yards passing on 12 completions.
The Cougars counter SMU’s passing attack with the league’s worst passing defense. Houston is giving up over 327 yards per game through the air, but has proven opportunistic, as the Third-Ward defense totals nine interceptions on the season.
The Coogs will need to continue to bend but not break and find opportunities for turnovers to stop the passing attack of SMU this Saturday.
Key Three: Stop the Return Game
SMU is pretty strong when returning both punts and kickoffs. The Mustangs currently rank first in the AAC in kickoff returns, averaging 29.3 yards per return, including one touchdown.
Wide receiver James Proche for SMU is the lead return man, having returned a total of 26 kicks/punts. The redshirt sophomore averages 25.3 yards on kickoffs and nearly 10 yards a return on punts.
The Cougars are giving up an average of 20.8 yards per kickoff return; however, they are limiting punt returns to 5.5 yards per return clip. If the Cougars can corral the Mustangs’ return game, it will force their offense to start from uncomfortable positions.
Sources: TheAmerican.org and NCAA.org