BYU Football Opponent Preview: Who are the Houston Cougars

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last season the Cougars in blue defeated the Cougars in red 47-46 after Alani Fua sealed the deal by intercepting freshman Houston QB John O'Korn's first pass of Houston's final series in the game. Here is an early look at the University of Houston Cougars.

In the second edition of our opponent preview, lets take a look at the Houston Cougars.

LAST SEASON

Last season UH suffered their first loss of the season to BYU and then went on to lose four of their last five games, finishing with an 8-5 record. UH's motto last season was "Something 2 Prove." What the Cougars in red proved was that they were a better squad than 2012's 5-7 team, but that they still have a ways to go. They were unable to win close games, going 1-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less. True freshman John O'Korn's performance had some hiccups throughout, but he appears to be the future of the UH offense.

Defensively, the Cougars played bigger than they actually were last season (they were the smallest team in the American Athletic Conference). They lead the nation in turnover margin, turnovers forced, and in stalled offenses, and boasted a tight red zone defense. UH defense intercepted the ball 3 times against BYU last fall.

COACHING CHANGES

Head Coach Tony Levine is looking forward to his fourth year at the helm of UH and has overhauled his offensive coaching staff in the off-season with new offensive line, outside receivers, and running backs coaches. Travis Bush is being promoted from within the program to offensive coordinator and looks to install a no huddle, fast tempo offense. This upcoming season will be somewhat of a return of Bush as OC. A few years back after OC Mike Nesbitt resigned, Bush took over as the interim OC and led UH to finish 15th nationally in average yards per game at 479.6. Bush's goal is to make the UH offense less predictable with an Air Raid style offense.

KEY PLAYERS

The player who really stands out is sophomore QB John O'Korn, who became the starting QB after David Piland suffered a career ending concussion last season. O'Korn looks to build on last season's shortcomings by making better decisions at the end of games and show that he can win big games. Junior running backs Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow both rushed for 500+ yards and look to build on that this season. Receivers Markeith Ambles, Deontay Greenberry, and Daniel Spencer return as an experienced unit that will no doubt thrive under OC Bush's pass happy system.

Saftey Trevon Stewart led the nation in turnovers caused. Adrian McDonald, also safety, had six interceptions last year. In the off-season Eric Eiland has lost weight and transitioned from defensive end to safety, which is his natural position to begin with. Senior linebacker Derrick Matthews had one of his best games against BYU last season recording 13 tackles, 3 sacks, a safety, and an interception. Matthews has moved from outside linebacker to the inside. Linebacker Ephrem Oliphant led the team last season with 134 tackles. Also, keep an eye out for defensive back Tyler White, who transferred from the University of Utah.

OFFENSE

The strength of UH's offense lies in the passing game and new OC Bush will play to that advantage with his new no huddle, uptempo offense. Sophomore QB John O'Korn led true freshmen quarterbacks last season in touchdowns at 26 last season and will likely build on that this season. He has great targets to throw to in Ambles, Greenberry and Spencer.

BYU fans understand the difficulty of a new OC installing a new scheme, even if he is familiar to the program; hopefully this is an area in which BYU can exploit UH's offense. With three returning starters on the offensive line and a no huddle offense, the BYU defensive line needs to win the battle in the trenches. Having a year of experience should give them a leg up on the UH O-line. In 2013 UH ranked 92 in rushing yards at 139 per game, which likely will not improve much with and Air Raid style offense.

DEFENSE

Levine thinks this season's secondary could be the best he seen in his seven years at UH. He has returning starting safeties Trevon Stewart and Adrian Stewart to anchor an otherwise inexperienced backfield. Despite the lack of experience at the defensive back position, Levine is excited for the depth and competition for starting spots at that position. Defensive tackle Joey Mbu anchors the defensive line and often drew double-teams last season, making it easier for the linebackers to make plays.

Not everything in Texas is bigger. Defensively UH lacks size, although last season they were able to compensate by forcing turnovers. BYU needs to hold onto the ball and exploit their size advantage.

MASCOTS

BYU and UH both use cougars for their mascots. The Cougars in blue have Cosmo. The Cougars in red have two, Shasta and his lady friend Sasha.

EXPECTATION

The Brigham Young Cougars will play the University of Houston Cougars for the first home game of the season Thursday September 11 on ESPN. The game last season was a high flying affair that garnered national attention. This season, especially with a Thursday night broadcast, will do the same. No score predictions here, just a prediction that the Cougars in blue come out with a win in another exciting game.

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