HOUSTON – What to watch for as Houston travels to Dallas to take on North Texas at Apogee Stadium.
1. How different will UH offense look without D’Eriq King?
The last time the Houston Cougars offense took the field without D’Eriq King they averaged 357.0 yards and 22.5 points per game. Clayton Tune started both games as a true freshman, averaging 243.0 yards passing and 70.0 rushing yards per game.
In a press conference early this week, head coach Dana Holgorsen said: “I’m anxious to watch Clayton play. We’ve developed him over the course of the last nine months, since I have been here. He’s got a ton of potential.” It’s no secret that Holgorsen likes to throw the ball, and take shots deep down field. Look forward to Tune getting the ball out of his hands quickly, into the hands of Marquez Stevenson, who’s a big play waiting to happen when he gets his hands on the ball.
Expect Holgorsen to lean on the plethora of running backs, they have been able to pick up yards on the ground consistently. Kyle Porter and Patrick Carr both average over 5.0 yards per carry, Mulbah Car averages 7.1 yards per carry.
During the week Holgorsen said Kyler Porter was “day to day.” Houston’s offense must start fast and sustain long drives to give their defense a rest.
2. Can the defense continue their 21-game turnover streak?
Despite giving up a ton of yardage all season Houston's defense leads FBS with 21 straight games with a takeaway. Through the first four games the defense has caused five turnovers, three forced fumbles and two interceptions.
Whoever causes the turnover or recovers the fumble puts on a UH logo hard hat “turnover hat." Coaches have spoken about wanting to change how defense has been the “stepchild” around Houston football. After giving up a touchdown in the last seconds of the game, the defense must be ready to compete again.
3. Air-raid reunion between coaches.
For three out of the four games, Holgorsen has coached against a head coach who comes from the same Mike Leach air raid coaching tree. This week it’s head coach Seth Littrell, who coached with Holgorsen for two years at Texas Tech.
In fairness to Holgorsen, who has lost every match up thus far, every coach has been head coach at their respective schools for two or more years. Leach is going into his eighth year, Riley is in his fourth at OU calling plays, third year as head coach, and Littrell entering his 3rd season as head coach at North Texas. Holgorsen is four games into his five-year $20 million deal. It will take some time for Holgorsen to completely change the culture around Houston football.
4. What will Houston have to do differently to secure its first road win of the year?
Last week Houston’s defense played well enough to win for most of the game against Tulane. Take away the last 53-yard touchdown pass at the end of the game, Houston defense only allows 133 yards passing. That’s exceptionally good for any college football team.
For the second time this year, Houston's troubles came from not stopping the run, giving up over 300 yards rushing again. So, Houston must stop the run first to limit the passing plays off play-action. Tre Siggers is coming in averaging 131.7 yards per game, and 7.9 yards per carry for North Texas. Houston has yet to play a complete four quarters of good football on both sides of the ball.
Through the first four games, North Texas offense has been a balanced attack. Houston will face another really good quarterback, in Mason Fine. Fine won Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year (the fifth player to win C-USA Offensive POTY in back-to-back seasons). The senior is one of the most accurate passers in college football, completing 61.8 percent of his passes. Fine looks to past first but he’s athletic enough to beat you running the football. If Houston cannot get pressure on Fine, they may be in for a long day.
With all the talk around the program about D’Eriq King redshirting, many people are saying Houston is the first college football team to tank and they won’t win another game. Expect Houston to use all the noise as motivation, to bond together and get their first win on the road. Momentum is a huge factor in college football games.
Houston has to start fast, to get momentum on their side, to take the crowd out of the game.