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What you need to know: BYU vs. Houston

Looking to continue a three game winning streak, the BYU Cougars pay a visit to undefeated Houston. In a match that will pit Cougar against Cougar, BYU will show off a defense that is looking to increase their streak of keeping teams under the 21 point mark to 14.

Cougars celebrate after a Hoffman touchdown.
Cougars celebrate after a Hoffman touchdown.
Gene Sweeney Jr.

The History

Saturday will be the first meeting between the BYU Cougars and the Houston Cougars. Since the two teams don't have a history to break down, we will take a different approach and breakdown a few of Houston's games this year.

Philadelphia, PA (2-0)

In the second game of the season, Houston took a visit to Philadelphia and took on Temple in the American Athletic Conference debut for both schools. Houston racked up the yardage but struggled in the red zone by only converting 1-of 8 attempts. Thanks to a strong defensive performance the Cougars pulled off a victory, 22-13. Houston kicker Richie Leone kicked five field goals and WR Deontay Greenberry had a career day with 14 receptions for 165 yards.

Houston, TX (3-0)

The following week the Cougars went back home to play in-state rival Rice. Rice took an early lead before giving way in the second quarter and then having to try and make a comeback. Going into the fourth quarter, Houston led 24-13. With just over two minutes left in the game, Rice blocked a field goal and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown, giving the Owls one last chance. Rice recovered the onside kick but was unable to capitalize and Houston held on to win 31-26. Houston's freshman quarterback John O'Korn went 15-33 for 281 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. For the second straight game WR Deontay Greenberry had over 100 yards receiving, ending with 146 on six catches.

Houston, TX (5-0)

Last week Houston stayed home to play Memphis. After falling behind, they made another comeback to win 25-15. For the 13th straight game, the Houston defense forced multiple turnovers. Memphis out-gained the Cougars by over 100 yards, but just couldn't convert them into touchdowns. John O'Korn failed to reach the 200 yard mark in passing and only went 13-30 with one touchdown. Efrem Olipant led the Houston defense with 13 tackles and a forced fumble.

The Outlook

After a dominating performance in the first half against Georgia Tech, the Cougars struggled to make adjustments in the second half. Even with a 38-20 win, there are both positives and negatives to the performance, leaving plenty to replicate and just as much to improve upon.

The Positives

Taysom improved in the passing game for the third straight week. Not only did he start 8-8 but he didn't throw an incomplete pass until the second quarter. He ended up 19-27 for 244 yards and one touchdown. He was putting the ball right on the mark and if not for a few dropped passes in the third quarter he would have had even better numbers. The highlight of the offense was the amazing throw, and even better catch, to Cody Hoffman to put the Cougars up 7-0. For those that want to see it again, here it is:

The defense again played strong, although they gave up two touchdowns and 400 yards. Kyle Van Noy spent time in the backfield with two sacks and another tackle for loss. Spencer Hadley made his return with one sack and an assist on a tackle for loss. He also had a fumble recovery on a Robertson Daniel forced fumble. For the second straight game the Cougar defense scored on a pick-six. The highlight play had to have been by Alani Fua as he outran Yellow Jacket QB Vlad Lee. Take another look:

The Negatives

Along with some dropped balls and conservative play calling in the third quarter, the Cougars managed only 22 yards of offense and really struggled to keep drives going against the Yellow Jackets adjustments. If it hadn't been for a couple of fourth quarter turnovers, the game could have been a play or two away from a less favorable outcome (i.e. we lost).

For the second week in a row the 2nd string defense gave up a garbage time touchdown. A Bronco led defense should not allow 400 yards and two touchdowns, regardless of it being 1st or 2nd string. Even though the defense held their 13th straight opponent to under 21 points, they gave up a number of third and long conversions. For the game, the defense allowed 10 of the 20 conversions attempted by the Yellow Jackets to be converted. This is a number that is unacceptable, especially when a handful of them were third and more than ten.

The Match-ups

The BYU Tight Ends vs. Houston Linebackers

For the first time this season, the Cougars had multiple tight ends catch the football. With the short pass being successful for the offense, this could mean a larger role for the tight end. Just like in games past, the Cougars will need blocking from this position but now defenses will need to game plan for more possibilities. Both Brett Thompson and Devin Mahina have multiple catches on the year and this opens up a new wrinkle for the Cougars. In order to combat this new addition, the defense will need to commit linebackers to stop them. The linebackers are a strength of the defense and right now, three of the four players that lead the team in tackles happen to be linebackers. The linebackers will need to be on top of their game in order to determine when to block and when to play coverage. This may limit some of the blitz schemes if the tight ends can make some noise early.

BYU Ball Carriers vs. Turnovers

The Houston defense has recovered ten fumbles and forced eight interceptions for a total of 18 takeaways. This is in contrast to their three fumbles and one interception. This is good enough for a 2.8 differential that is first in the nation. BYU on the other hand has only taken the ball away eight times (4 fumbles, 4 interceptions). They have also given the ball away 11 times for a negative .5 margin leaving them tied for FIU and San Jose St. at 96th in the country. Since ball security is at a premium, the players that touch the ball need to hang on to it. Houston will be gunning for the turnovers to keep their streak of games with multiple turnovers alive. Running backs, receivers, and punt/kick returners better keep that in mind.

The BYU Front Seven vs. The Freshman QB

The BYU front seven should be chomping at the bit to get into Houston. The Houston Cougars are playing a freshman QB who is not putting up great numbers, but isn't making many mistakes either. On the year he has only one interception. With a good pass rush and disguised schemes, BYU could play mind games with the young quarterback and force him into mistakes, not to mention make a physical impression he isn't likely to forget (anyone else notice how slowly opposing quarterbacks are getting up by the end of the game?) BYU will be the best defense Houston will face on the year. With the offense already struggling to put up great numbers, the defense needs to rattle them early and often. The linebackers should spend time in the backfield and the front four needs to use their size to create negative plays.

The Keys to Watch

When Houston has the ball: Watch for the offense to test the secondary early with a couple of long balls. The Houston offense is averaging almost 13 yards per completion so they will look to take what the secondary gives them. The secondary will need to keep track of Deontay Greenberry. He has a long of 61 yards this year and they will want to get him behind our defenses. The BYU defense is well aware of the inexperience at quarterback and should throw in some schemes to confuse and pressure John O'Korn. Don't be surprised to see pressure put on early and then some fake blitzes by the linebackers who then drop back into the passing lanes.

When BYU has the ball: Watch first and foremost, Cody Hoffman. Last week he tied Dennis Pitta as the all-time career receptions leader and his first catch on Saturday will put him alone in first place. He is also only two touchdowns away from snagging the career touchdowns lead away from Austin Collie. During the games where the offense has been successful with the pass, they have thrown the ball on first and second down. Watch for this trend to continue as they call the quick slants and begin to utilize the tight end position in more ways. If Mahina and Thompson can continue to improve in the passing game, they will be given more chances to make plays. As Jamaal Williams and Algernon Brown continue to receive the majority of the runs, look for a continued run presence that will allow the receivers to beat the secondary down field.

Don't forget to watch the punt and kick returns. In the past, the time between a kickoff or punt and the next offensive play could be used to get a snack. Those days are gone as Adam Hine has taken the field by storm and is ranked fourth in the NCAA in kick returns while averaging 32.7 yards per return. JD Falslev has also made the punt returns an adventure. He is averaging 12.2 yards per return with one touchdown. Even when he isn't taking it back he is making it interesting with a few fumbles thrown in.

Interesting Tidbit

Houston head coach Tony Levine is as jovial as they come. That may explain why he has taken advantage of April Fools' Day the last two years. In 2012 he convinced the fans and the media that their all-conference running back was moving to cornerback and then in 2013 he announced that they were changing their logo from the traditional UH to add an O to account for University OF Houston. Having a press announcement from the school didn't hurt and it sure made the fans think when he displayed a picture of the new helmets. Take a look at the picture and the article Click here.

Next Meeting

The next scheduled game between the schools is September 27th, 2014 in Provo, Utah.

The Broadcasting Details

Time: 1:30 pm MDT

Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston Texas


Internet: WatchESPN

Radio(BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143

Listen Live via Internet (KSL): Click Here

Radio Links (Houston): Click Here