5 things to watch when UH takes on No. 20 Washington State

By Da'Yon Dunlap - Digital Contributor
2019 Getty Images

The Houston Cougars take the field for a football game against the Prairie View A&M Panthers on September 07, 2019, in Houston, Texas.

HOUSTON - It's "Friday Night Lights" college football edition this week, as two brilliant offensive minds, Mike Leach and Dana Holgorsen, will lead their teams against each other at NRG Stadium in the Advocare Texas Kickoff on ESPN.

Houston takes on No. 20 Washington State at 8:15 p.m. Friday.

Here are five things to watch:

1. Mike Leach vs. Dana Holgorsen

It has been 14 years since Leach and Holgorsen roamed the sidelines together at Texas Tech. Their relationship goes back 30 years to when Holgorsen played wide receiver at Iowa Wesleyan and Leach was the offensive coordinator.

The last time the two coached against each other was in 2009, when Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator at Houston and Leach was the head coach at Texas Tech.

Friday's matchup will be the first time both Holgorsen and Leach will face off as head coaches.

Leach, who is known for his offensive wizardry air raid attack, has helped mold brilliant offensive play-callers, such as Holgorsen; Lincoln Riley, the Oklahoma Sooners' head coach; and Kliff Kingsbury, the Arizona Cardinals' head coach.

Leach and Holgorsen have each coached offenses that led the nation in yards per game and scoring per game. Both will handle play-calling duties Friday night. Houston's offense is averaging 394 total yards per game, including 155.5 passing yards per game.

"We're two games into this offense so it's not going to look good initially," Holgorsen said.

Washington State averages 606 yards per game, and 494 of them are passing yards.

Leach said he has been pleased with the performance of his starting quarterback Anthony Gordon and the offense through the first two weeks.

2. Houston's secondary will be tested

Gordon, through two games, has thrown for 884 yards and nine touchdowns. He's averaging more than 50 points and 400 yards per game. In Washington State's last game against Northern Colorado, the offense accounted for 649 yards. Easop Winston Jr. and Brandon Arconado both eclipsed 100 yards receiving in the contest.

Opponents are averaging 290 yards per game against Houston. In UH's last game against Prairie View A&M, the defense limited its passing attack to 248 yards. Through two games, nickelback Grant Stuard leads the team with 22 tackles. The defense has caused turnovers in both of its games to start the season. Houston's defense must focus on the fundamentals this week and tackle well, to limit big plays.

3. Getting pressure on the quarterback

Houston's defense didn't sack Jalen Hurts in its opening week loss to Oklahoma, but the Cougars were able to record three sacks last week against Prairie View.

Payton Turner has gotten off to a good start this season, finishing with four tackles, including two for a loss against No. 4 Oklahoma. Against Prairie View, Turner totaled 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack in the win.

Isaiah Chambers registered his first sack last week. He's coming off a year in which he finished the season with 4.5 sacks, despite only playing five games. Three of those sacks came in his debut against Rice. It is apparent that Houston must be able to apply pressure to Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon and not give him time to throw the ball.

4. Offensive cohesiveness

After two games last season, UH quarterback D'Eriq King had 631 total yards and eight touchdowns. Many expected identical numbers, if not more in Holgorsen's system. So far this season, King has accounted for 437 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns. King admitted that he and the offense have to do a better job of getting off to a fast start.

In regard to improvements from the offense, Holgorsen said, "We need to work on everything. Our timing isn't good. Everyone points the finger at the quarterback if things don't look good, but there are 10 other people out there that need to do the same thing."

Running back Kyle Porter was able to rush for 126 yards on 19 carries last week. Chandler Smith was a nice change of pace to Porter, adding 90 rushing yards of his own. Houston has yet to have a receiver eclipse 100 receiving yards this season. In the season opener, Marquez Stevenson had seven catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.

Expect the offense to run more smoothly and resemble the explosive attack it displayed last season.

5. First test for Washington State defense

In the first two games this season, Washington State's defense put on some great performances, beating New Mexico State 58-7 and Northern Colorado 59-17.

WSU limited both teams to less than 400 yards. Opponents are only averaging 180 passing yards and 156 rushing yards per game against Washington State's defense.

This week, the defense will face an athletic dual-threat quarterback in King.

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