Opponent: Houston Cougars
Head Coach: Tony Levine (2nd Season)
All-Time Series: tied 7-7
Last meeting: November 24th, 2004 – Louisville 65, Houston 27
2013 Record: 7-2 (4-1)
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m.
Game Location: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium – Louisville, Ky.
TV: ESPN with Clay Matvick and Matt Stinchcomb on the call
Radio: 84-WHAS with Paul Rogers and Craig Swabek on the call
Spread: Louisville -16
After a less-than-impressive 31-10 victory over Connecticut (yes there is such a thing) last week, the Louisville Cardinals will host the Houston Cougars for the first time since 2004 and attempt to maintain sole possession of second place in the American Athletic Conference. Houston (7-2, 4-1) is fresh off a devastating road loss to league-leading UCF after they failed to capitalize on first-and-goal late in the 4th quarter of their 5-point set-back. The Cougars, like Louisville, simply could not get their offense going and only converted 5-12 third downs and posted just 14 points. On the season, Houston has been a scoring machine, averaging 38.1 points (21st in the nation) and 310 passing yards (17th in the nation) per game. They’ll look to bounce back from that disappointing road trip to Orlando and attempt to upset the 20th ranked Cardinals despite being 16-point underdogs.
As mentioned, the Cougars are an extremely talented passing team, but that’s not the only thing they do well. They also average 159.3 rushing yards per game (75th in the nation) and will line-up with a quick-hitting, spread offense. Predicated mostly on swing routes and quick screens, Houston’s offense will also go 5-wide and try to hit their opponents with play-action, as well. Led by QB John O’Korn, who’s passed for 2,352 yards and has completed 65% of his passes (185-293), the Cougars will show Louisville multiple looks and attempt to gash them with short gains early. Despite being a freshman, O’Korn has shown great poise this season. He’s thrown 23 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions and the 6’4, 215 pound, Fort Lauderdale native appears like he could be a future pro.
O’Korn is joined in the backfield by sophomores Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow. Jackson (5-10, 185 lbs) is the feature back, and leads the team in rushing attempts (110) and yards (543). More of a shifty, smaller back, Jackson is better on the outside when he can find space in the open field. Farrow (5-11, 216 lbs), despite also having pretty good speed, is a bit more of a bruiser and Houston’s go-to-guy when they need short yardage gains. He excels at running between the tackles and has totaled 399 yards on 68 carries and has also scored 4 touchdowns.
Out wide, the Cougars have perhaps the best receiver in the conference (all due respect to DeVante Parker) in Deontay Greenberry. The 6’3, 200 lb sophomore is a future first rounder and has size, hands and route-running that clearly make him stand out in this offense. He’s already caught 70 passes and has 1,042 yards and a team-leading 9 touchdown passes. A clear focal point for the Louisville secondary, the safety duo of Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor will likely trade giving help on Greenberry all night. Houston has also got great production from junior Daniel Spencer who’s accounted for 36 receptions, 575 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Like Louisville, Houston hasn’t exactly played murderers row, but they boast a solid team on both sides of the ball. In fact, the Cougars are the only team on UofL’s schedule that rank inside the top 30 in both scoring offense and scoring defense. We’ve told you all about that stout offense, but the Houston defense deserves a lot of the credit, too. In 2013 the Cougars are giving up just 22 points per game (27th in the nation) and held a potent UCF offense to just 19 points last week. Only one team (BYU) has managed to score more than 28 points on this team. After a dreadful offensive performance against the Huskies last Friday, you would think the Cards will rebound and put up some points. And they might……but they’re in for a tough task.
Houston will go with a traditional 3-4 look and, though they bend a lot, this defense doesn’t often break. They actually lead the nation in turnover margin (+21) and showed last week against UCF just how disruptive they can be. On both of the Knights’ opening drives, the Cougars forced turnovers and stalled two sure scoring drives. They’ve tallied 6 interceptions and a staggering 14 fumble recoveries, so the Louisville ball carriers must keep the rock secure in the open field at all times. This defense slaps at everything from behind and have a knack for getting their helmet on the ball when trying to make a tackle.
The Cougars are led by talented free safety Trevon Stewart, who leads the nation with 8 forced turnovers (4 fumbles and interceptions apiece). Stewart is as good as you’ll find when it comes to making plays in space and has outstanding instincts. He’s third on the team in tackles with 75, so he also wraps up the ball carrier when he needs to. Linebacker Efrem Oliphant has been terrific from the middle linebacker spot, leading the team with 85 tackles (10 of which were for loss). He’s also collected 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. He’s joined in the linebacking corps by junior Derick Mathews, who’s right behind with 82 tackles (8 for loss) but has 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. This could be the best linebacker duo the Cards have seen all year, so it’ll be interesting to see who wins the battle in that second level of the field. The Houston front four don’t get a ton of push up front, so they rely a ton on the linebackers and secondary to make the big plays.
Kickoff is set for 7:00 tomorrow night (the first primetime Saturday night game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium since 2009).