This is not the season that Houston expected.
The Houston Cougars (2-3) find themselves approaching midseason unsure what kind of season they are going to have. Rather than a tussle with an AAC contender, Cincinnati’s Saturday afternoon contest seems to have lost some of its Clash of the Titans luster.
Dana Holgorsen’s once heralded team, which entered the season with a horde of fantastic offensive weapons, has dropped games against Oklahoma, Washington State, and AAC upstart Tulane.
With the season in peril, Houston’s multi-threat, one-time Heisman contender quarterback D’Eriq King announced after the loss to Tulane that he was redshirting the season.
Houston still has a strong quarterback. Sophomore Clayton Tune was recruited as a pro-style passer but showed his credentials as running quarterback against North Texas, gaining 100 yards rushing on 9 attempts.
Tune has plenty of weapons with which to work. Running back Patrick Carr is a durable runner who is one of the best backs in the AAC. Senior wide receiver Marquez Stevenson is a quintessential Dana Holgorsen perimeter weapon, who is one of the conference’s best speed burners.
Houston has a veteran offensive line, led by senior center Braylon Jones, who is considered a mid-round NFL prospect.
Defensively, Houston has problems. These are nothing new. Army embarrassed Houston last December in the Armed Forces Bowl, posting 70 points on the Cougars.
In 2019, Houston has surrendered more than 30 points in all three of its defeats.
The Cougars’ defensive strength is on the back end. Its starting safeties, Deontay Anderson and Gleson Sprewell, are both elite tacklers, which is profoundly important for Houston, who has a decidedly porous run defense.
Cincinnati’s strategy will almost certainly be ground-and-pound. Houston’s capacity to compete with Cincinnati will be predicated on their ability to stop the run. Similarly, the Cougars will need to establish the run when they have the ball to hang in this one.