Start time: Thursday, Sept. 15, 7:30 p.m. EST
Location: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Streaming: WATCH ESPN
Betting Line: Houston -7.5 (has been seen at -8 or even -8.5 in some places)
All-time series: Houston leads 14-10
Last year: Houston won 33-30 at TDECU Stadium
All right, here we go — Houston’s first real test ... since it’s first real test.
Both teams enter their first AAC game 2-0 but as we’ve seen over and over again, records and scores can be misleading.
Cincinnati defeated UT Martin 28-7 to open the season and beat Purdue 38-20 last week. Let’s focus on the Purdue game for a second ...
While it was an 18-point win for the Bearcats, here are some numbers to keep in mind:
Cincinnati — 512
Purdue — 504
Time of possession:
Cincinnati — 30:17
Purdue — 29:43
Cincinnati — 22
Purdue — 29
Cincinnati — 0
Purdue — 5
Purdue is one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers threw five interceptions and missed a field goal in the loss. That’s six possessions that ended in zero points.
Despite the five INTs, Purdue quarterback David Blough passed for 401 yards and two touchdowns.
The point is, the Boilermakers moved the ball seemingly at will. They ruined themselves with self-inflicted wounds.
The point after that is, Cincinnati has not faced an offense or defense the caliber of Houston’s since Nov. 7 of last year when the Cougars won the 2015 matchup — and that includes the Bearcats’ lopsided implosion in their bowl game.
San Diego State destroyed Cincy 42-7 in the Hawaii Bowl to finish the year.
The Bearcats have shown a fairly stingy run defense in their first two games this season — allowing 177 yards to UTM and 103 to Purdue — but again, they haven’t seen an offense like Houston’s this year.
Greg Ward is back from his shoulder injury, though the indications are that he is still not 100 percent and I imagine Tom Herman will be hesitant to run him as often as usual.
"He makes plays," Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville said on the weekly AAC coaches teleconference. "Obviously, we’re going to have to play much better than we’ve been playing to contain a quarterback like Greg Ward."
Duke Catalon will also return from a sprained ankle.
Both players sat out UH’s win over FCS Lamar but Herman said they could have played if necessary.
Either way, Ward is back; Catalon is back; the wide receivers are healthy and full-go; and backup running backs Kevrin Justice, Mulbah Car and Josh Burrell gained valuable experience and confidence versus Lamar.
That’s five rushing options — not counting wild card D’Eriq King — at Houston’s disposable to test Cincinnati’s rush defense.
And it’s clear that the Bearcats’ secondary is a liability.
AND let us not forget that two days before UH absorbed some early blows from Oklahoma before dismantling the Sooners, Cincinnati trailed UT Martin 7-6 at halftime. The Bearcats actually had to come from behind to beat the Skyhawks (yes, I had to look up the mascot).
Cincinnati will use Tion Green and Mike Boone in the running game but I fully expect Houston’s front seven to contain them.
Bearcats’ sophomore QB Hayden Moore should anticipate consistent up-close and personal appearances by Ed Oliver, Cameron Malveaux and Tyus Bowser in the backfield. Moore will rack up some passing yards by virtue of his offensive system and the fact that Cincinnati could be playing catchup for most of the game, but I don’t think the yardage will ultimately do much harm.
Here are two final numbers to keep in mind:
Cincinnati’s defense has surrendered an average of 413.5 yards per game thus far.
Houston’s defense has given up just 233 yards per game.
Honestly, I think the biggest concern for UH will be the stage. It’s the first conference game; it’s on the road after a short turnaround in a loud stadium in a primetime nationally televised game.
If Ward and Catalon stay healthy and the stage doesn’t trip up the Cougars, they should by more than two scores.
Houston wins 38-17