Houston (7-2) at (19) Louisville (8-1)
Saturday, November 16, 7 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: In their final road contest of the year the Houston Cougars will be out to make a statement when they battle the 19th-ranked Louisville Cardinals in an American Athletic Conference bout at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Houston is still licking its wounds after a 19-14 loss to UCF last week. The two teams entered without a blemish in league play but the Cougars were sent packing with their first of the year when the final whistle sounded. The Knights' defense really clamped down on the Cougars, who lost despite forcing four turnovers.
"I give (UCF) a lot of credit. They have a very talented defense and they are not giving up many points this season. We had our chances and there is no blame to be placed," Houston head coach Tony Levin said after the loss. "The thing we emphasize more than anything in our program, defensively, is creating turnovers. Normally when you win that turnover margin, you win the game."
Houston is still enjoying a fantastic year, its first as a member of the AAC, as they enter play this weekend with a 7-2 overall record. The two losses have come by a combined six points.
Louisville has risen after its shocking, 38-35, home loss to UCF in mid- October. The Cardinals have won back-to-back games by a combined score of 64-10. However, those two victories have come against South Florida (34-3) and Connecticut (31-10), who have a combined record of 2-14. Still, dominating wins against inferior opponents should not be held against the Cardinals.
"I always talk about November and that is when championships are won," Louisville head coach Charlie Strong said. "There is a lot of football that is still left to be played. I told them yesterday a year ago we were 9-0 and no one ever thought we would go into Syracuse and get slapped around. Then come back home against a Connecticut team and get beat. Then, we had to go and win the last weekend on the road; it can very easily happen. We just have to make sure we take care of our business."
With a 4-1 mark in league play, Louisville is still in the mix in the AAC, but will need UCF to falter down the stretch.
These former Conference USA rivals have split the all-time series with each team owning seven wins. The last time they faced off was in 2004 when Louisville posted a 65-27 triumph.
Though it struggled against UCF, Houston has normally been a very potent offensive team. The Cougars are third in the AAC in total offense (470.2 ypg) and second in scoring (38.1 ppg).
John O'Korn had issues in picking up coverages against UCF and had one of his worst outings of the year, as he completed just 52.2 percent of his pass attempts for 231 yards and one touchdown, while being intercepted twice. The 231 yards were the second-lowest total for O'Korn this season. A return to normalcy would be good for O'Korn, who has thrown for 2,352 yards and 23 scores this year, completing 63.1 percent of his pass attempts. O'Korn has also been careful with the ball, with just six interceptions.
Getting back on track will require a receiver other than Deontay Greenberry to step up. Greenberry (70 receptions, 1,042 yards, nine TDs) is as sure a thing for all-conference honors as there is. He had eight receptions for 94 yards against UCF and has had five 100-yard efforts this season. Daniel Spencer (36 receptions, 575 yards, five TDs) and Xavier Maxwell (25 receptions, 347 yards, four TDs) are solid options as well, but have not been nearly as consistent or productive.
Kenneth Farrow (399 yards, four TDs) was the best rushing option for the Cougars against UCF as he tallied 57 yards on eight carries. Farrow has now had at least 50 yards in three straight games. In the same time, Ryan Jackson (543 yards, five TDs) has had only one game with more than 50 yards. Farrow may get even more looks this weekend after Jackson had just 12 yards on five carries last week.
Levine isn't kidding when he speaks of Houston's ability in creating turnovers. On the year the Cougars have forced an AAC-leading 32 takeaways. That has helped make up for the Cougars' overall defensive effort as they are third to last in the conference in total defense (326.7 ypg). Efrem Oliphant (85 tackles) and Derick Mathews (82 tackles) have eclipsed the 80-tackle mark, while Trevon Stewart (71 tackles, four INT, four FR) has had a real nose for the ball.
Unfortunately for Houston, despite its offensive efforts, it is still looking up at Louisville in that regard. Louisville is second in the AAC in total offense (481.2 ypg) and leading the conference in scoring (38.4 ppg).
Guiding the offensive machine is Teddy Bridgewater. The much hyped signal caller has thrown for 2,845 yards this season and is completing 71.4 percent of his pass attempts. Against UConn, Bridgewater completed just 56.8 percent of his throws and was intercepted for just the third time this year. However Bridgewater's mistakes have been few and far between. He reads defenses well and has benefited from solid protection, taking just 12 sacks all year.
Bridgewater spreads the ball well but has relied mainly on the trio of Damian Copeland, DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers. Copeland is the leader in receptions (39) and yards (569) and has found his way into the end zone four times. Parker (32 receptions, 528 yards, eight TDs) is more of a big-play threat as the team leader in receiving scores. Rogers (31 receptions, 422 yards, four TDs) is the third option, while Gerald Christian (23 receptions, 364 yards, four TDs) has good hands as a tight end.
The backfield has gotten its production from a trio of backs, but Michael Dyer (223 yards, two TDs) is listed as questionable this week after missing the last two games. That leaves more work for Dominique Brown (513 yards, four TDs) and Senorise Perry (482 yards, six TDs), who were both stymied against UConn.
Louisville has been a more effective defensive team, relying more on making stops than creating turnovers. The Cardinals rank at the top of the AAC in total defense (243.7 ypg), holding teams to just over 10 points per game. Preston Brown (65 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks) is the anchor for the unit, while Marcus Smith (11.0 sacks) and Lorenzo Mauldin (8.0 sacks) are ferocious pass rushers on the front line.
After being bruised up by UCF last week, going into Papa John's Cardinal Stadium to tangle with the Cardinals is a tough task. Louisville has been tuning up for the stretch run in the last few weeks and should be at top form on Saturday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisville 40, Houston 23
11/14 16:06:07 ET