The UTSA Roadrunners and Houston Cougars are set to take the field to start their seasons this Saturday but they’ve faced a winding road to get there. Coastal Texas was hammered by Hurricane Harvey over the weekend, bringing catastrophic destruction to Houston and other communities along the Gulf Coast. Nonetheless, the start of the season rolls on. A few of us here at Underdog Dynasty got together to get a preliminary feel for the huge match up this week before our full game preview is published later this week.
First off, how do you see the Houston Cougars responding to the awful situation they’ve been stuck in this week? The Cougars have been stuck practicing in Austin as Houston is suffering from catastrophic flooding. These guys won’t have slept in their own beds in over a week by the time kick off rolls around.
- Joey - Major Applewhite certainly has endured his fair share of adversity to begin his head coaching career. Houston’s been dealing with heavy rain from Hurricane Harvey, and it has to be on the mind of the players. The game is the last thing on these kids’ minds, and it will be difficult for them to refocus. I wouldn’t be completely surprised if they decide not to play, and I wouldn’t blame them if that was their choice. This football game is the least important thing right now, and whatever the players and coaches decide will be supported. Should they decide to play, it will be an emotional game for Houston.
- Jared - This is a huge test for Head Coach Major Applewhite. In his first game as a head coach Applewhite was unable to keep his team focused during a bowl trip to Las Vegas as star wide receiver Chance Allen was sent home before the team turned in a miserable and uninspired performance against SDSU. If Applewhite can keep his squad’s minds clear and the Cougars do what they’re supposed to do then it will go a long way to proving Applewhite as a capable replacement for Tom Herman.
- Adrian - This is an agonizing burden for a team to face, and the timing of it all couldn’t be any worse. For the storm to happen a week before the season opener of a new coach’s first year sets a difficult scenario for Houston to withstand. Areas around U of H are totally submerged and the team’s been displaced for several days now because of it. This is affecting players’ loved ones and homes - on both sides at that. As much as I would like for this to be a means to rally, I think this catastrophe is going to weigh on the Cougars heavily.
What is one area that both Houston and UTSA could find an upper hand in this game?
- Joey - Defensively, UTSA needs to find a way to negate Ed Oliver. The sophomore is going to be the best defensive lineman they see this season, and he will live in the backfield if they can’t. Houston’s defensive front will be stingy, and will try to force the Roadrunners to beat them through the air. The experience of a defense that finished in the Top 25 will be Houston’s biggest strength in this game.
- Jared - UTSA’s returning experience and veteran comfort with their system could be a big boon to them. Houston will be breaking in a new coach and new starting quarterback so they’ll need to burst through any growing pains quickly if they’re to hold off the Roadrunners. UTSA’s long and physical cornerbacks could give UH receivers Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar the most press coverage they’ll see all season long.
- Adrian - Both teams find the bulk of their strength on defense. I don’t anticipate a lot of high-flying but expect this to be more of a battle of downs defensively. UTSA will have an advantage in using their front seven to make it difficult for U of H to pick up chunks in the middle of the field. Their front will rival that of Houston’s, take that to the bank. Houston’s upper hand is simple pedigree; two years removed from a 13-1 season, this team is still very good. The winner of this game will be the team that wins in the flats.
How could UTSA pull the upset against a strong Houston squad?
- Joey - Winning the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Houston will be looking to get their running game going, so UTSA can force the Cougars into passing situations by stopping the run. On offense, they need to control Houston’s defensive front seven. There are multiple weapons to be aware of, and winning the battle in the trenches could lead to good things.
- Jared - If the Roadrunners are to steal this game from the Cougars they’ll need to get inside Kyle Allen’s head early. Allen threw 14 interceptions in his 19 games at Texas A&M and threw two picks in UH’s spring game. Creating a turnover off of an errant throw early in the game could rattle Allen’s confidence and get a packed crowd in the Alamodome rocking. Oh, and UTSA will need to block Ed Oliver too.
- Adrian - Win the turnover battle. If UTSA can manage to force Houston into making a mistake, a key turnover with favorable field position could decide the game. I think on both sides of the ball the Roadrunners have enough to keep up with Houston, they just need to create a mishap that will put them on top.
Name one player on each side of the ball that must step up and play a strong game in order for their team to win
- Joey - Houston: Defensively, defensive ends Nick Thurman and Reggie Chevis. Ed Oliver is going to do his thing, but UTSA is almost certainly going to double team him when they can. Thurman and Chevis will need to dominate their matchups so that attention on Oliver gets dispersed elsewhere.
Offensively, it’s Duke Catalon. A running game is just what the doctor ordered for this offense, and will open up play action later in the game. Catalon is also dynamic out of the backfield, so UTSA will have to find him when he leaks out downfield.
- Jared - UTSA: On offense UTSA will need center Austin Pratt to play like an animal. One of the strongest men to ever put on the pads for UTSA, Pratt can match Oliver in the weightroom but will that translate on the field? If Pratt can at least slow Oliver down enough to get help from his guards then quarterback Dalton Sturm should have time to get the ball out of his hand.
Defensively Darryl Godfrey will need to play mistake-free football in his first start. When UH goes four-wide on offense Godfrey will need to flash coverage skills. We know Godfrey has plenty of athleticism but is he ready to respond to receivers breaks and read the quarterback’s eyes?
Adrian - UTSA: The offensive front will need to play its best game in the last three seasons for UTSA to have a chance at winning. That will come down to the combined efforts McKinney and Austin Pratt. The guard and center duo will decide whether or not UTSA will be able to run up the middle of the field and have the time to throw the football. UTSA is veteran-laden at the skill positions, if the offensive line can give them enough room to wiggle then they’ll run wild.
As for the defense, I’m going to go with Marcus Davenport. I prefer Houston’s offense to get the ball first because I think UTSA’s defense getting in the backfield early will be enough to rattle the Cougars. Davenport is the force of UTSA’s defensive line, coming off the edge into Allen’s back can cause him severe handicap in his first start with Houston.