The Vaunted Cougars: More Thoughts On Dealing With Houston

If you were to look at our opponent's stat lines, at first blush there are no positives to take away for Bruins. In fact the numbers are scary and kind of sickening for our side:

  • Cougars are ranked number 1 in the country averaging a mindboggling 61 points per game
  • Cougars passing offense is ranked number 9 in the nation averaging 347 yards per game
  • Cougars rushing attack is not too shabby averaging 229.5 yards per game. It is also ranked in the top-25 (no. 23) among FBS teams

While most of those numbers were piled up with Case Keenum (who at this juncture is still "day to day" after suffering a concussion in their last game), they are going to be fine under capable leadership of Cotton Turner. Either way the Bruin defense (which has been shaky and vanilla at times this season) is expected to be under a withering blitzkrieg all night at the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, no one knows whether our offense will be able to mount enough of a charge with its less than anemic passing attack (to date) to keep the Bruins in the game. On the other end, don't really have the stomach to peer through our offensive stats in detail given what we have seen in our first two games.

So it's no wonder that the Cougars are feeling good and are 3 points favorite at the Rose Bowl even without Keenum (the line would have been much higher in favor of the Cougars) if Keenum was 100 percent and ready to go. With this backdrop there is not much to be hopeful about if you follow the four letters. Can't blame folks if they are approaching Saturday night with a feeling of dread (which is not really cool and valid reasons to be upset about in a coach's third season in Westwood). Yet all that hopelessness aside, there are some numbers involving the Cougars that could make tomorrow night a little more than interesting.

First of all the Cougars have played two teams this season, who are not going to be much of a factor anywhere: Texas State and UTEP. I know, I know. As a UCLA alum, don't really have any standing to point at other teams as irrelevant. We really have no right to talk. Blah blah blah.

Still, if one were to attempt to make sense of Houston's obscene offensive numbers (featuring essentially the same team from last year), it would be a good idea to browse through their last season's stat lines just to get a better sense of their team.  Houston went 10-4 last season. They finished the season on a 2 game losing streak losing a game at East Carolina (32-38) and then got hammered by the Air Force (20-47) in the Bell Helicopter Arm Forces Bowl.  What is interesting if you look through last year's schedule is how the Cougars struggled on the road.

We read yesterday about how the Cougars are treating their visit to the Rose Bowl as a "business trip" similar to the ones they took in Central Florida last season.  Well, they also lost to Central Florida last season (32-37). They have lost 3 straight games on the road.  Their other loss was also on the road against UTEP (they exacted revenge for that one last weekend).  They did pull of an impressive win against Oklahoma State in Stillwater by score of 45-35 but keep in mind the Cowboys were coming from a huge, emotional win against then SEC powerhouse Georgia Bulldogs. They escaped with a one point win against Tulsa (46-45) and another narrow win against Mississippi State after recovering an onside kick in the closing mins. Their only impressive win on the road came against Tulane (that would be the same Tulane team led by Bob Toledo).

So Houston, despite all the surreal offensive numbers around it doesn't really have a history of being a powerhouse, intimidating team on the road. I browsed through their 4 losses to find out whether I could take out any common thread among those games. Here is what I found interesting. Check out the number of rushing attempts by Houston opponents in all of those games:

Team

Rushing Attempt

Total Yards

Yards Per Rush

UTEP (58-41)

41

305

7.4

UCF (37-32)

50

152

3.0

ECU (38-32)

38

151

4.0

Air Force (47-20)

72

402

5.6


Well it wasn't just those 4 teams who had success running against the Cougars last season. The Cougars had one of the worst rushing defenses in the country last year. They were ranked 115 in the country giving up 226.57 yards on the ground per game. With 2 games into the season they have improved their numbers somewhat (ranked 67th in the nation) giving up 140 yards per game. However, that sample size is not large enough to discern improvement given they went up against Texas State and Utah.

Our rushing numbers on paper look slightly better this season. The patch work OL (the lone unit that has stuck out as a bright spot this season) is producing around 171 yards per game. However, we can't be all that impressed with that number given the small sample size from just two games.  Still, it seems to me that if were to have a shot tomorrow night we need to go to our ground attack and attempt to run at, around and through their defensive front (which is somewhat undersized). We need to go at them at least 40-45 times tomorrow night (we rushed 33 times against KSU and 37 v. Stanford).

There is no secret to what the Cougars are going to attempt. They are going to throw, throw and throw some more (See 03rdn9's post detailing the "Air Raid." If you look through their stats last year, you will see there were few games in which Keenum passed the ball well over 60 times and sometimes going north of 70 attempts. Perhaps they will bring down that number just a bit if Cotton Turner is taking the snaps instead of Keenum but I doubt their game plan changes all that much. So, it is going to be on our secondary to step and attack the Houston receivers and their passing game. Our pass defense on paper looks impressing 2 games into the season. However, I am not sold on them considering they went up against Kansas State's below average QB and against Andrew Luck, who was having a well below average night (and I think Luck was having an off night because he wasn't under a lot of pressure from Chuck Bullough's vanilla defense).

It will be interesting to see whether the Bruins can contain that "vaunted" offense. Tony Dye gave his thoughts heading into Saturday in this interview with Gold:

What I am dreading is that Bullough is going to come out with his nickel package a lot (perhaps using Dalton Hilliard as the extra DB) and let the Cougars carve us up all night long through long drives inflicting Chinese water torture on the entire Bruin Nation. In my dreams, I'd like to see Bullough throwing in his athletes - including hitters like Dietrich Riley - and attempt to unleash pressure on Keenum or Turner and disrupt the timing of the Cougars' offense. They have shown in the past that they can be disrupted. Keenum threw whole bunch of interceptions in their losses last season. So just like any other great QB he can be disrupted if he is taken out of his comfort zone. However, for that to happen Bullough is going to have to be the aggressor and disrupt the tempo.

Meanwhile, on the offense it will be a matter of efficiency. I mentioned up top that our offense game plan needs to feature a heavy dose of rushing attack. However, none of it is going to matter if Kevin Prince cannot execute on his end which would entail making the right reads, getting nice, crisp, catchable balls to his receivers, putting them in position to rack up some YACs. I'd also like to see we step back from our attempted hurry up routine a bit to play ball control and keep our guys on the field as long as possible.

There is no doubt about Houston being a great team and being the favorites at this point given our putrid and unacceptable performance against Stanford. However, if we actually "fix" the issues as Neuehisel keeps saying we need to "fix" and stop killing ourselves with mistakes, we will have a shot tomorrow night. Here was CRN yesterday after practice:

He talked about ensuring the offense is "efficient" and the defend can "contain" the "vaunted" Houston offense. I hope he and his coaches are also planning to have the Bruins on attack, forcing the issue and playing to win. Because if the Bruins come out in a conservative shell and keep playing not to lose, the feeling of hopelessness will not go away.

GO BRUINS.

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