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Houston vs. USF: Game Preview

Houston takes on USF in the AAC Game of the Week.

NCAA Football: Memphis at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Date: Saturday, October 28

Kickoff: 3:45p.m. EST

Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida


Stream: WatchESPN

Line: -10.5 USF

Series Record: Tied 2-2 (USF won the first two, Houston has won the last two)

Last Meeting: Houston won 27-3 on November 1, 2014

This is a game that both sets of fans say they have been waiting for. Both teams have been the models of the AAC for the past few years now. Houston won the conference in 2015, and defeated Florida State in a New Years Six bowl game. USF is a front-runner to win the conference this year and has won 8 games in 2015 and 11 in 2016, with a bowl game win over SEC foe, South Carolina. Although Houston may not be as good as the 2015 team, they are still a very good football team. USF cannot look ahead of this AAC sleeper team from the west, if they want to achieve that perfect season.

Houston Outlook - Joey Broback

Another great opportunity presents itself to the Houston Cougars this week, and I’m sure they used their extra days to prepare for USF and take some positives away from last week. We got a glimpse of how good this team can be, and they have a chance to prove that this week.

Last week

I’m not going to spend a ton of time here. We all saw what happened against Memphis. It wasn’t great, but there were plenty of positives to take from the loss. Houston won’t dwell in the past with a huge matchup on Saturday. So, to keep it short and sweet: Houston lost, they have a chance to pull off an upset this week, and all of their focus will be on USF.

This week

Everyone knows who USF is, and the Cougars will be just fine playing to role of spoiler. With the offense continuing to struggle, Major Applewhite rediscovered a breakthrough: tempo. I say rediscovered because he was running that pace last year as offensive coordinator, but hasn’t gone that fast all year until Thursday night. The result was Houston’s highest and most balanced output this season but they’re just getting started even with the loss of a starter.

NCAA Football: Memphis at Houston
Catalon (2) will take on a bigger role with Dillon Birden’s injury.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Dillon Birden suffered a fairly gruesome injury against Memphis, and was lost for the season. Birden had been sharing time with Duke Catalon in the backfield, but now Catalon should receive more carries in his absence. Mulbah Car should take over Birden’s role and has 127 yards rushing with a touchdown this season. Catalon rushed for 65 yards and three touchdowns against Memphis, and Cougars fans are hoping that he’s finally putting it all together. Whoever plays quarterback will thank him.

Quarterback play has been suspect at times, but Applewhite’s decision to pick up the pace could be extremely beneficial for that position. Kyle Postma passed for 315 yards Thursday, but there have been rumors that D’Eriq King might line up at quarterback too. King has proven to be extremely explosive as a receiver, but his original position is quarterback. There are plenty of other playmakers that Houston can utilize, but the quarterback play needs to continue to improve if they want every single player to make an impact. They’re definitely going to need an explosive offense in case USF’s offense gets going.

We’ve all heard about the Bulls rushing attack. How they’ve scored 30+ points in 24 games. Blah blah blah. It’s time for Houston’s defense to get some love. Even with Matthew Adams nursing an ankle injury, D’Juan Hines continues to excel in the middle, and he will play a big role in stopping the Bulls running game. That is, if they get past the defensive line.

This will be the first time the Bulls have played Ed Oliver, and they’re in for a surprise. Teams have run away from Oliver all year, and provided double teams and chop blocks when they do run at him. Despite those exhaustive strategies, Oliver is third on the team in tackles, and leads the team in tackles for loss. You simply cannot contain this beast. The front seven’s success against the run could put the Bulls in an unfamiliar position: passing the ball.

When I say passing, I mean the NEED to pass the ball. Stopping their rushing attack puts them in an uncomfortable situation. Quinton Flowers only eclipsed the 200 yard passing mark twice this season, and that lack of experience could go in Houston’s favor.


  • Stop the run. USF is a run-heavy team, and forcing Flowers to pass is essential. A lack of depth in the Bulls’ receiving corps could play into Houston’s favor.
  • Jump on USF’s mistakes early. Penalties and slow starts have plagued the Bulls all season, and that is an advantage that Houston can utilize. They had Memphis on the ropes last week, and the Tigers used a passing game in their comeback that USF doesn’t possess.
  • Battle the comeback. The Tigers comeback last week was hard to watch, and USF is capable of doing so as well. It’s inevitable that they will comeback if the Cougars can jump out to an early lead, but Houston needs to respond to that change in momentum
  • Keep the tempo up. Applewhite’s decision to pick the pace of the offense up was one of his best decisions on the season. While Houston doesn’t want to get into a shootout with USF, they need to be explosive and dynamic. Going fast will help them get on the board a lot.


We’re still waiting for our first major upset within the conference, and Houston had a chance last week, but couldn’t pull through. It’s not going to be easy against USF and on the road, but the Cougars have shown signs of potential. The Bulls had yet to play a solid team before last week, and a slow start could be the dagger that Houston needs. If Oliver & Co. can force Flowers to pass and into mistakes. A big upset isn’t likely in this game, but are they really ever? Exactly, you never saw this one coming.

Final Score: Houston 24 USF 23

USF Outlook- Nick Armstrong

This is a big game for USF and the fans emotionally. Talent-wise USF thinks they are tops in the conference. Realistically, they should win each of their remaining games. But, with the rise of UCF, the division crown won’t be given up so easily. Even if USF does lose this game, they still have a chance at the division. If they lose though, the team, and the fans, may start losing faith for the War on I-4.

Last Week

Last week, offensively, USF looked like the 2016 team we were accustomed to seeing. Even with Tulane dominating time of possession, USF put up 30+ points for the 24th straight game. Quinton Flowers looked like his old self throwing for 127 yards, while rushing for 138 yards, compiling 3 total touchdowns. The rushing game with Darius Tice (141 yards, 1 touchdown) and D’Ernest Johnson (84 yards, 1 touchdown) gashed Tulane’s defense. Tice has proved to be the better rusher when rushing between the tackles, while D’Ernest is best when he runs outside.

Darnell Saloman led the way last week with 3 catches for 50 yards and a touchdown with Marquez Valdes-Scantling right behind him with 3 catches for 41 yards and a touchdown of his own. The passing game has potential, but still seems stagnate with Sterlin Gilbert’s “intriguing” play calling.

Special teams became an issue last week as multiple times protection broke down leading to a blocked PAT and FG. Emilio Nadelman has proven himself a very good kicker, so long as he has time to kick.

This Week

The big challenge this week is to rebound from Tulane. Everyone had fun while they were in New Orleans, and they came out with a good “W”, but they cannot avoid another letdown. Last week, the starters came out, for some inexplicable reason, way too early. This led to a collapse that has us worried a tad. There cannot be another letdown this week, as the Bulls must regain focus.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Tulane
Flowers is a proven runner, but he may have to beat Houston with his arm.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Houston comes in towards the bottom half of the conference in total offense, where the Bulls come in at number three. Although guys like Ed Oliver will be blocking up the run lanes, Houston still allows 155.4 yards per game on the ground. This is a game where USF could also really open the passing play book. We have heard that the playbook is still being hidden, but here is a perfect opportunity to break some plays out and practice them. Houston is worse against the pass then they are the run, and this is a chance for Quinton Flowers to prove he can win with his arm too. USF got off to a fast start last week. They must do the same here against a strong Houston squad.


  • Do NOT let Ed Oliver win. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like seeing opposing teams get tackles for loss and sacks, but don’t let the one great player on that line win. I will take a negative play from any of their other players, but if I hear Ed Oliver’s name one time come up in that stat book with a negative play... They have a game plan for him, they must execute it.
  • Penalties need to stop. According to ESPN, USF is also the leader in the sloppy play department. They lead the FBS with 83 penalties for 787 yards. The next closest, former USF coach Willie Taggart’s Oregon Ducks with 74 for 678.
  • Open up the playbook. Let Quinton Flowers do his thing. The AAC is much better with a Heisman Candidate.
  • The defense needs to keep it up. The first team defense has been shutting down teams all year long. They lead the country with interceptions and have two players in the top 5 in the AAC, Devin Abraham (4), and Mazzi Wilkins (3). Houston is averaging under what USF has scored for the past 24 games. If they continue to play the style of lockdown defense they have been playing all year, I don’t think Houston will stand a chance.


When all is said and done, USF is the more talented squad. They have athleticism on both sides of the ball, and proved last week that they can get off to a quick start. Another key factor is, running back, Dillon Birden has been declared out for Saturday’s game. Joey might have some more insight on his backup, but I don’t think Duke Catalon can do it alone. It will be close at halftime, as both teams get off to quick starts. But, USF will continue to run the ball and tire out Houston to the point where USF will break off some big runs. Give me USF at Ray Jay.

Final Score: USF 38, Houston 21