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What you need to Know: BYU vs Houston Preview

Last year the game was a shoot out, don't expect the same this year.

Jhn O'Korn will look to get back on track against BYU.
Jhn O'Korn will look to get back on track against BYU.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The History

Thursday night the BYU Cougars will take on the University of Houston Cougars in a rematch from a year ago.  This will be the second meeting between the schools in a series that started last year in Houston and will end in Provo.  The one game that has been played already was an entertaining shootout that ended with BYU taking the 1-0 series advantage.

Houston, TX (1-0)

In the first matchup between the Cougars, the game came down to the final minutes as the two teams withstood the others blows until time ran out with BYU on top.  The game started and ended with the BYU defense, but there wasn't much of it in between.  On the first play of the game Spencer Hadley intercepted a John O'Korn pass setting up the Cougars for a 28-yard touchdown drive less than a minute into the game.  BYU would add a field goal on the board before Houston would return the kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.  Only halfway into the first quarter, BYU put together another touchdown drive that was topped off with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Hill to Ross Apo.  Houston was not about to lay down as they scored on a 69-yard touchdown pass of their own, and then returning a Hill interception for a touchdown giving Houston a 21-17 lead.  After another Hill to Apo touchdown, the two teams traded interceptions before the quarter was complete.

Houston would be the first to put points up on the board in the second quarter as they recorded a field goal and a touchdown before BYU handed the ball to Jamaal Williams to end a 10-play drive, tying up the game at 31.  O'Korn would connect with Daniel Spencer for a 41-yard touchdown before BYU hit another field goal as the half expired, with Houston up 38-34.  After putting up over 70 points in the first half, the Cougars played to a two-point third quarter as Houston recorded a safety to lead 40-34 going into the fourth.  Just over two minutes into the fourth quarter, Hill found Cody Hoffman for a 25-yard touchdown to give BYU a one-point lead.  Houston would once again take the lead with just over five minutes left in the game when O'Korn found Deontay Greenberry for a 10-yard touchdown, but the ensuing two-point conversion failed leaving the door open for the BYU victory.  With less than two minutes on the clock and the ball at midfield, Hill found Skyler Ridley for a 28-yard pass down the sideline.  After two running plays, Hill again found Ridley, but this time for an 11-yard touchdown and the lead.  Houston would have one more chance, but Alani Fua dashed their hopes as he intercepted the first pass of the drive. BYU ended up with 683 yards of total offense, 41 first downs, and a total of 115 plays in the win.

The Outlook

After a stellar performance by the entire team against Texas, fans are looking for the special season.  Two games into the season and the Cougars are averaging 38 points a game and only giving up 8.5 on defense.  With tremendous game play from all positions, the game against Houston looks to be an exciting home opener.  The biggest concern up to this point will be the short week facing BYU.  With a late game against Texas and no practice on Sunday, that leaves the home team only three days of practice to game plan for a team that put up over 40 points on them last year.

The Positives

In a 41-7 thrashing of a Big 12 team, it is hard to isolate just a few positives.  This game might be the most complete game that the Cougars have played in a few years.  However, one of the keys to the third quarter scoring outburst was the fact that BYU cut down on the penalties.  For the game the Cougars ended with six penalties for only 40 yards.  This was a huge improvement from their 15 for 150 performance in week one.  It is also worth noting that the composure by the offensive line has resulted in zero false start penalties, on the road, in hostile environments.

A second positive that came from adjustments was the kicking game.  Trevor Samson hit all his extra points for the second straight week and added two field goals.  The kickoffs were getting closer to the endzone, but could still use a few more yards on them.  You can't talk about the kicking without mentioning Scott Arellano.  On four punts he averaged over 47 yards per punt. The punt of the night came in the fourth quarter as he booted one 64 yards that hit inside the five and rolled out of bounds inside the one.  If the team can continue to get this type of production from the kicking game, teams will be hard pressed to score.

The Negatives

In many cases we need to nitpick to come up with these, but there is always room for improvement.  The turnovers didn't hurt the Cougars this game, but they will need to minimize them for future games.  The interception by Hill was a great catch by the defensive back and it was while taking a shot down the field. It appeared that the ball was well placed; the receiver just didn't win position.  With the Cougars size and speed, they should be getting into position well before the defenders.  The fumble by Hill was also preventable as he had time to throw it away, but decided to tuck and it was knocked out before he could get away.

Even though the penalties were down for the game, a couple cost the Cougars.  The most obvious one was a holding call that negated a 66-yard touchdown run by Hill as Jordan Leslie was called for the hold about 15-20 yards behind the play.  In most cases the call wouldn't be made, but if the hold hadn't taken place there would have been no reason to make it.  Players need to make sure they are playing smart and not slipping up like they did on that play.  Again, it didn't cost the Cougars the game, but the four points could make a difference in a close game.

The Match-ups

BYU Receivers vs Houston Secondary:

One of the key matchups of the game will be how Houston's secondary plays against the BYU receivers.  After two games Houston is only giving up 148 yards through the air, so they will come in confident that they can match the intensity of the wide receivers.  BYU will have the size advantage, but will need to make sure they beat the defenders to their spots so they are in a position to make the play.  Even on the rushing plays the receivers will need to play their part and use their size to block down field and force defenders out of position, allowing the ball carriers more running space.

John O'Korn vs BYU Secondary:

Two games into the year and O'Korn hasn't scared opposing defenses, but as the Cougars found out last year, he does have the potential to beat up a secondary.  So far he is only hitting on 51 percent of his passes and his QB rating is below 100.  He has only one touchdown to four interceptions against teams you would not expect to give Houston problems.  The BYU secondary is looking forward to forcing mistakes and continuing their streak of 12 straight games with an interception.  The secondary will need to be ready because the sophomore quarterback could break out if he gets a bit of confidence, so they will need to rattle him early and often.

The Keys to Watch

When Houston has the ball:

Watch for Houston to get the passing game going early.  They will want to give O'Korn some easy passes to make sure his confidence level is high and to get the ball moving.  After seeing success in the passing game last year they will want to use the pass to set up the run as they will struggle against the Cougar defense if they try to establish the pass with the run.  Watch for the Cougars defense to fill the lanes and not allow easy passes to beat them. With the strength of the run defense, the Cougars will look to force long second and third downs, allowing the secondary to jump routs and make plays.

When BYU has the ball:

Watch for the Cougars to start things off with the run.  The Houston defense is giving up just over 100 yards per game by the run, so if BYU can force Houston to load up the box after a few Hill or Williams dashes, the field will open up for the pass, allowing for a balanced offense and one-on-one coverage.  BYU feels that any of their receivers can win a one-on-one battle and make teams pay for trying it.  Watch for Houston to show their confidence in their secondary and pass defense, allowing for the front seven to creep up and force Hill to stay in the pocket and make him beat them through the air.

Interesting Tidbit

Houston fielded a football team for the first time in 1946.  Their first game took place that spring and was supposed to be a practice against the Rice Owls at the home field for Rice.  When the team arrived for their "practice" they noticed that it was a much bigger deal than before as officials were on the field and 11,000 people in the stands.  Since 1946, the Houston Cougars have finished the season ranked in one of the polls 16 times.

Next Meeting

With this being the last contracted meeting between the two teams, there are no future games planned.

Weather Forecast

The temperature should be in the high 60s to low 70s and 0% chance of rain.

The Broadcasting Details

Time: 7 PM MDT

Where: LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo Utah

TV: ESPN

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