When you're in the Group of Five, you have to maximize your opportunities. That means taking advantage of matchups against Power Five conference schools. The #18 Houston Cougars have already done a good job of that this year after defeating Louisville 34-31 on September 12th.
This week, the Coogs have another opportunity to make a statement and pad their resume when they take on Vanderbilt. A victory over an SEC
doormat opponent like the Commodores would certainly impress the voters and give the Cougars even more confidence heading into the teeth of their conference schedule.
Start Time: 7:00 PM EST, Saturday, October 31.
Location: TDECU Stadium, Houston, Texas.
Live Stats: Here
Line: Houston -13.5. Over/Under 46.
The Cougars are coming off a 59-10 destruction of UCF where they got off to a sluggish start before blowing the Knights' doors off with 52 unanswered points. A lot of teams have drubbed UCF this season, but none as rapidly as the Cougars. They scored 24 points in a three and a half minute span, showing why they have one of the most fearsome offenses in the nation. They rolled up 600 total yards, 366 of which came on the ground. Kenneth Farrow had a career high 167 yards on 13 carries and three touchdowns, while QB Greg Ward Jr cored his FBS leading 15th rushing touchdown and added 210 yards with a TD through the air.
The running game is clearly Houston's biggest strength (291 ypg), but the ability to get the entire offense involved is what separates them from the pack. Twelve different Cougars have scored touchdowns on the year, and they average 47.6 points per game. The Vandy run defense is solid, allowing only 109.86 yards per game, but the pass defense has been less so. The Cougars' balance will be front and center tomorrow night.
Defensively, the Cougars have done a great job of limiting points. While they allow 362 yards per game, opposing offenses are only averaging 19.7 points per game. Given that Vandy is only averaging 18 points per game (120th in the nation), the Cougars should be in pretty good shape tomorrow night.
So yeah, the Commodore offense has trouble scoring. They have only 13 touchdowns total, with running back Ralph Webb accounting for six of those. If you can find one positive for Vandy, at least they're coming off a win. They won a 10-3 pillow fight with fellow SEC bottom dweller Missouri last week. Freshman QB Kyle Shurmur got the start over sophomore Johnny McCrary, but both split time behind center last week. Either way, the Dores gained only 306 total yards against the Tigers, so don't expect much out of the Vandy offense against the Cougars.
If Vandy is going to have any shot at all tomorrow night, it will be because of their defense. The Commodores (#21 in FBS in total defense) are ranked 16th in the nation against the run, allowing only 107 yards per game and 51st against the pass allowing only 206 yards per game.
The defense is led by LB Zach Cunningham (50 tackles, eight TFL), DB Oren Burks (35 tackles, 1 INT), and Adam Butler (14 tackles, 6 TFL, three sacks). Vandy's front seven has been the biggest key to their limited success this season, and will surely have their hands full with Farrow and Ward Jr Still, run defense is clearly Vanderbilt's strength, so it at least provides a good matchup with the Houston offense.
Tomorrow night comes down to strength on strength. Houston has ran all over everyone on their schedule, but they have yet to meet a defense as geared toward stopping the run as Vanderbilt's.
Herman: The Vanderbilt defense is really good. Our offense will have its work cut out for them. We have to be dialed in. #HTownTakeover— #HTownTakeover (@UHCougarFB) October 26, 2015
The Commodores are built to take away the run, but Houston has shown that they are just as comfortable scoring with the pass. Farrow and Ward, Jr. won't have an easy time on the ground against the Commodores, but the Cougar air attack can at least make enough plays through the air to counteract that. Couple that with a Cougar defense that will not allow any breathing room for an already punchless Vanderbilt offense, and you have the formula for a Houston victory.
Houston 31 - Vanderbilt 17