Cincinnati (8-2) vs. Houston (7-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 23, 12 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rice Stadium (47,000) -- Houston, Texas. Television: ESPN2, ESNPU or ESPN News. Home Record: Cincinnati 5-0, Houston 3-1. Away Record: Cincinnati 3-2, Houston 3-2. Neutral Record: Cincinnati 0-0, Houston 1-0. Conference Record: Cincinnati 5-1, Houston 4-2. Series Record: Houston leads, 13-8.
GAME NOTES: In a critical American Athletic Conference showdown the Cincinnati Bearcats will battle the Houston Cougars at Rice Stadium on Saturday.
While Louisville and UCF have gotten the notoriety, the Bearcats have quietly amassed an 8-2 overall record, and at 5-1 in conference play, are tied with the Cardinals for second in the AAC standings. Cincinnati routed Rutgers, 52-17, on the road last weekend for its fifth straight victory. Cincinnati had 619 yards of total offense in the contest, the fifth-highest total in team history. With two games to play, Cincinnati has a real shot at earning 10 wins for the third straight season.
Houston hit a snag in the last two games as they lost back-to-back contests on the road at UCF (19-14) and Louisville (20-13). The Cougars certainly did themselves proud in staying close with the top two teams in the conference but they are now 7-3 overall and holding on in the conference standings with a 4-2 mark.
Cincinnati, which left C-USA after the 2004 season, rolled to a 47-14 victory in the last meeting between the teams. Still, the Cougars lead the all-time series by a 13-8 margin.
Compiling large yardage totals is nothing new for Cincinnati which ranks second in the conference in total offense (478.7 ypg) after its impressive effort against Rutgers. The Bearcats are making sure to cash in on that production, scoring a healthy 35.2 points per game.
Brendon Kay wasn't head coach Tommy Tuberville's first choice at quarterback this season but Kay has taken to the job quite well since Munchie Legaux went down in early September. Kay was at his best against Rutgers as he threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns on 24-of-38 passing. On the year Kay has totaled 2,411 yards and 20 touchdowns on 72.6 percent passing, while being intercepted seven times. Kay has thrown for at least 300 yards in three of the last four games as he is hitting his stride at just the right time.
With Kay throwing the ball so efficiently there has been plenty of work for the Cincinnati receiving corps. Anthony McClung (52 receptions, 674 yards, five TDs) had his third straight game of at least 90 yards receiving against Rutgers with seven catches for 115 yards. He was one of three players to have at least 100 yards in the contest, with Shaq Washington (62 receptions, 604 yards, TD) and Mekale McKay (13 receptions, 402 yards, seven TDs) each turning in 100-yard performances. Meanwhile, Chris Moore (32 receptions, 435 yards, seven TDs) had 75 yards and two scores on four receptions.
The Bearcats have not relied on a single feature back this season. Hosey Williams (491 yards, four TDs) is the leading rusher in terms of yards, while Ralph David Abernathy (409 yards, three TDs) is the only back to have more than 100 carries. Tion Green (351 yards, seven TDs) will also get in the mix and is the best rusher in terms of finding the end zone.
Other than Louisville, no team in the AAC is performing better than Cincinnati on defense. The Bearcats are second in the league in both total defense (304.8 ypg) and points allowed (18.6 ppg). Greg Blair (71 tackles) and Nick Temple (56 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks) anchor the team at linebacker, while Silverberry Mouhon (6.5 sacks) and Jordan Stepp (6.0 sacks) are a tough duo to handle on the line.
During its recent two-game slide Houston has been uncharacteristically weak offensively. The Cougars had just 195 yards of total offense against Louisville and have failed to reach over 400 yards in the last three contests, after having more than 480 in six of the first seven games of the year.
Quarterback John O'Korn has not been able to get into a rhythm. O'Korn completed just 16-of-35 pass attempts for 121 yards and did not throw a touchdown pass for just the second time this season against Louisville. O'Korn, who has been sacked at least three times in four of the last five games, had been putting together a much better season prior to facing the Cardinals. In total O'Korn has thrown for 2,473 yards and 23 scores on 61.3 percent passing. O'Korn has also limited his interceptions to just six.
O'Korn may be without one of his top targets this weekend. Against Louisville Deontay Greenberry was completely shut out as he suffered a concussion. He is listed as day-to-day due to the after effects of the injury. Prior to the Louisville game, Greenberry had accumulated 1,042 yards and nine scores on 70 receptions. Each of those totals is by far the best on the team though Daniel Spencer (38 receptions, 598 yards, five TDs) is doing a solid job as the second option and will be leaned on more heavily should Greenberry be sidelined.
Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow head up the rushing attack. Jackson (589 yards, five TDs) leads the team in yards and carries and finished with 46 yards on 13 attempts against Louisville. Farrow (423 yards, five TDs) works himself in as the backup.
Houston is at best an average defensive team in comparison to the rest of the AAC, ranking fifth in the league in scoring (21.8 ppg) and seventh in total defense (417.2 ypg). However the Cougars have forced a national-best 33 turnovers this season. In fact the Cougars own the best turnover margin (+22) in the country. Trevon Stewart has made the most plays on the ball with four interceptions and five fumble recoveries.
This is the first real test for Cincinnati, which has beat up on the lesser squads thus far. The Bearcats have the offense to pull off a road win if they can avoid turning the ball over. However if O'Korn gets back on track the Cougars will be able to keep up.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 37, Cincinnati 34
11/20 10:46:57 ET