Houston, the offense that does everything at exactly the same level. The national numbers are all over the place, but they are by many measures the fourth best offense in the conference. I am sure Troy Levine would take the fourth best offense in the conference back in August when the QB situation was a mess, and Charles Sims (by far their best player) had just transferred to West Virginia.
Flash forward to November and Levine seems to have found the quarterback of the future in John O'Korn. The passing game has clicked into a very productive groove. The Cougars passing game is not as productive as SMU's is, but it is still very good. The main difference between the two is in the balance of the attack. The Mustangs had four really good receivers, each capible of producing a monster game on any given day, or three of them as the case may be.
Houston relies on Deontay Greenberry to make the passing game go. His production is essentially double that of the number two receiver Daniel Spencer, and thats not really surprising. Greenberry was a consensus top 50 recruit in high school who shocked everyone by spurning Notre Dame for Houston. He has more than lived up to the hype, and rightfully monopolizes the attention, targets, yards and touchdowns. He is the one to watch for the Cougars on offense.
Like most new age Air Raid teams Houston is much more balanced than the expectation, and certainly much lower than the classic Air Raid Mike Leech is running at Wazzou. Their run/pass ratio is 47/53, and they have been pretty effective despite the unexpected departure of Sims. They have a pair of really effective young backs in Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson who split the carries pretty evenly.
Houston is young on this side of the ball, but they are undeniably effective, and clearly getting better every week. Give it about two years and this group will be sowers of extreme terror.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about the Cougars turnaround has been the turnaround of the defense from 2012 when they finished 90th or worst in every major defensive category. That performance cost Jamie Bryant his job, and he was replaced with David Gibbs who has worked wonders with essentially the same personnel groups.
Gibbs has the Cougars playing defense in a way that compliments how the Cougars play offense. They attack from the beginning and never stop attacking. The emphasis is on creating splash plays, be they turnovers (where they currently have the national lead) sacks or tackles for loss.
As a unit they aren't as proficient as Memphis or as suffocating as Louisville, in part because they don't have a difference maker up front. Tyus Bowser is a really impressive freshman, who has the ability to be special but isn't there yet. He is just a freshman after all, asking him to turn games with his pass rush is a bit much. They can, and do, compensate for their deficiencies up front by blitzing a ton. Derrick Matthews and Efrem Oliphant will spend a ton of time in opposing backfields.
Like I said, they spend a lot of time in the backfield. Their aggression reaps a lot of rewards, they get plenty of splash plays on that side of the ball as they have a top 40 mark in sacks. But when that steady stream of blitzes run cold opposing offenses and gain steady yards at will beating the blitz. Only 16 teams in the country have allowed more gains of 10+ yards.
On the other side of the ball I can't really make sense of how the Houston passing attack has had 53 passes defended but only thrown 6 interceptions. For most of the teams UC has played those numbers have been at least somewhat correlated, but no such correlation seems to exist with the Cougars. Weird.
1) Houston is plus 22 on the year. +22. If that holds for their final two games they will be the first team to finish a season +20 or more since Kansas and LSU both did so in 2007. They are a full +2 per game as well. That is the highest mark since the great 2001 Miami Hurricanes had a +2.36 margin. Houston's ability to force turnovers in 2013 defies any kind of rational analysis. Simply accept that its strange and don't try to explain it. Which brings me nicely to point number two.
2) Speaking of stats that defy rational analysis look at that fumble recovery rate. 75% recovery of 4 fumbles makes sense. 75 percent of 20 fumbles makes much less sense. Fumbles, and their recoveries are random events. There is skill in forcing fumbles, which Houston clearly has amply quantities of, but there is no skill in recovering them. That is luck pure and simple.
Unlike most of the teams that the Bearcats have played this season there is no obviously exploitable shortcoming with this Houston team. They do have some weaknesses to exploit, third downs on both sides of the ball for example. But they don't have a weakness on the magnitude of "Temple can't cover a soul" or "Offense is not really something Memphis does." For that reason alone the Cougars are the biggest test of the year for the Bearcats. This is just a fundamentally sound football team, which should make for a tense and taught affair. Can't wait.
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