Houston (7-1) at (19) UCF (6-1)|
Saturday, November 9, 7 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: In a crucial American Athletic Conference matchup the two teams at
the top of the league standings will be pitted against one another, as the
Houston Cougars visit the UCF Knights at Bright House Networks Stadium.
This is the first leg of a critical three-game stretch for Houston. The
Cougars, who have surprised many by opening up at 7-1 overall, and 4-0 against
the AAC, will face No. 20 Louisville on the road next week and Cincinnati at
home after that.
UCF has yet to lose a game in league play as well, though at 3-0 the Knights
are still trailing the Cougars by a half game in the standings. UCF has been
extremely impressive this season with a 34-31 win at Penn State as well as an
important 38-35 win at Louisville, that effectively knocked the Cardinals out
of the BCS title chase. UCF has won three straight games entering this contest
with the last victory a 62-17 rout of Connecticut. The Knights enjoyed a bye
week following that victory and have had plenty of time to prepare for this
"Each week you have to treat it like a championship game. Attack it, stay with
your accountability and responsibility, regardless," UCF head coach George
O'Leary said of his team's mentality.
These teams are clearly not strangers as they made the move to the ACC from
Conference USA together this year. However, this will only be the fifth all-
time meeting. UCF has taken wins in three of the previous four meetings,
including a 40-33 win during the last matchup in 2011.
"We are familiar with them. Just having been in Conference USA for the last
five years that I've been a member of our program," Houston head coach Tony
Levine said of the Knights. "They are a well coached team. They make you earn
everything. They don't make mistakes."
It has been obvious all season that Houston can move the ball up and down the
field as well as any team in the league. The Cougars are third in the AAC in
total offense (483.1 ypg) and one of just three teams in the league to average
more than 6.5 yards per play.
Guiding the Cougars from under center is John O'Korn, who has done a great job
after taking over for David Piland early on. O'Korn has thrown for 2,121 yards
and 22 touchdowns to just four interceptions, while completing 65.2 percent of
his passes. O'Korn has really picked up his play in the last three weeks with
at least three touchdown passes in each contest and two 360-yard efforts
during that time. Only Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater has thrown more
touchdown passes than O'Korn.
The strong passing numbers have been helped by some talented pass-catchers.
Deontay Greenberry is the most productive of the group and one of the better
receivers in the league, bringing in 62 passes for 948 yards and nine
touchdowns. In the Cougars' most recent win over South Florida, Greenberry
tallied 106 yards and a score on four receptions for his fifth 100-yard effort
of the year. Daniel Spencer (34 receptions, 562 yards, five TDs) has the skill
to put forth 100-yard games as well, as does Xavier Maxwell (23 receptions,
326 yards, four TDs).
A pair of running backs powers the rushing game for the Cougars. Ryan Jackson
(531 yards, five TDs) is the primary option as his 105 carries are also a
team-high. Kenneth CArrow (342 yards, four TDs) has been able to perform at a
high level as well, despite a more limited workload.
While the offense has certainly been running on all cylinders, Houston has not
been as impressive on defense. The Cougars are eighth in the 10-team league in
total yards allowed (430.3 ypg). However, Houston has been a very
opportunistic bunch, forcing a conference-best 29 turnovers. That is 11 more
than any other team in the league has been able to create. Tyus Bowser (5.0
sacks) is the top pass rusher, while Derick Mathews (74 tackles, four sacks,
INT) has been extremely versatile.
UCF should be able to hang right with Houston in terms of offensive
production, as the Knights are scoring 37 points per game, ranking among the
top five teams in the conference in total yards gained (434.7 ypg).
The duel between O'Korn and his UCF counterpart, Blake Bortles, should be
interesting. Like O'Korn, Bortles is an extremely efficient passer that rarely
turns the ball over. He has thrown for 1,870 yards and 15 touchdowns on the
year, completing an impressive 67.2 percent of his passes. On top of those
numbers Bortles has only been guilty of four interceptions. Bortles was on
point against UConn when he threw for four touchdown passes, which was also
the number of incompletions he had on 24 attempts.
Bortles has been a bit more generous with the spreading of the ball than
O'Korn. There are four different receivers who have recorded at least 20
receptions this season. Rannell Hall (28 receptions, 487 yards, three TDs)
leads the team, but Breshad Perriman (22 receptions, 507 yards, TD) is more of
a threat to pick up big yardage totals. J.J. Worton (20 receptions, 311 yards,
four TDs) is another important piece, as he proved by posting 119 yards on six
catches against the Huskies.
Running the ball has largely fallen to Storm Johnson, although Bortles has
been known to take off and pick up a few yards here and there. Johnson has
rushed for 592 yards and nine touchdowns on 114 carries. He will be looking to
bounce back from a bland effort against UConn when he had 28 yards on nine
Where UCF will have an advantage is on defense, as the Knights are allowing
only 349 yards per game, while owning the third best mark in the league in
scoring defense (19.3 ppg). Rushing the passer hasn't been a real strength,
but Terrance Plummer (60 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, two INTs) has proven to
be just as destructive in the secondary as in opponent's backfields.
This is where the rubber meets the road for Houston. It can finally prove its
hot start was no fluke. Even if that is true the Cougars will have trouble on
the road against a UCF team that should be able to match them blow for blow.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UCF 33, Houston 24
11/06 10:48:12 ET