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11 Up, 11 Down: Houston

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The Bulls look to improve to 8-0 on the season as their toughest opponent to date visits on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Southern Methodist at Houston Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Opponent: Houston Cougars (4-3, 2-2 AAC)

Head Coach: Major Applewhite (First season)

Famous Alumni: Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Jim Parsons, Dennis Quaid, Jim Nantz, Kenny Rogers.

Rappers who attended UH at one point: Chamillionaire, Master P, Lil Wayne, and Paul Wall (who studied Mass Comm, meaning there's an alternate universe where the Undisputed King of the Parking Lot is writing for SB Nation).

Date/Time: Saturday, October 28 at 3:45 p.m. on ESPNU.

Series History: Tied 2-2. The last time these two teams played was in 2014 at Ray Jay, where the Cougars won 27-3 in one of the most painfully boring games I've ever sat through. My, how things can change in three years.

2017 has been a year full of inconsistencies for the #HTownTakeover squad. They've had their share of ups and downs in year one of the Major Applewhite era. After starting the season at 4-1, the Cougars limp into Tampa after being boatraced by Tulsa two weeks ago and squandering a 17-0 halftime lead versus Memphis last Thursday.

Houston has been mistake prone in their defeats, turning the ball over 11 times in the team's three losses this season. Not a good sign when getting ready to face a USF ballclub leading the nation with a +13 turnover margin.

Let's take a closer look at the numbers. Here's the Football Study Hall Glossary for reference.

Peripherals

Team S&P+ (Overall) Offensive S&P+ Defensive S&P+ Special Teams S&P+
Team S&P+ (Overall) Offensive S&P+ Defensive S&P+ Special Teams S&P+
USF 15 33 16 45
UH 50 56 46 46

With the Cougars checking it at No. 50 in S&P+, this will be by far the toughest opponent USF has faced all season long, even with their inconsistencies.

Offensively, Houston is averaging 27.2 points per game and 5.7 yards per play while converting 48% on third down. Their defense is yielding 24 points per game and 5.6 yards per play.

Current S&P+ data gives the Cougars only a 23% chance of springing the upset in Tampa.

When Houston Runs...

Team Rushing Success Rate Run Explosiveness Stuff Rate
Team Rushing Success Rate Run Explosiveness Stuff Rate
UH Offense 88 75 38
USF Defense 1 101 2

Houston has been so-so on the ground this season, averaging 172.9 rushing yards per game on only 4.4 yards per rush.

Junior Duke Catalon leads the team with just under 500 yards and seven touchdowns on the year. He will shoulder an even heavier workload with the loss of former walk-on Dillon Birden to an elbow injury. Birden had 333 yards on 5.6 yards per carry and four touchdowns on the season. That's a tough blow against a USF defense that continues to lead the nation in run success rate and is second in "stuff rate" (holding ballcarriers to zero yards or less on a carry).

Look for underclassmen Mulbah Car, Davion Mitchell, and/or Patrick Carr to fill in for the injured Birden.

When Houston Passes...

Team Passing Success Rate Pass Explosiveness
Team Passing Success Rate Pass Explosiveness
UH Offense 21 123
USF Defense 3 39

Houston's quarterback situation has been a weird one this season. After former Texas A&M standout Kyle Allen was benched following the Texas Tech game, senior Kyle Postma has taken the reins.

Postma has completed 67.3% of his passes, throwing for over 1,100 yards and five touchdowns. But his six interceptions and three lost fumbles have people questioning whether he should be the starter moving forward.

At receiver, seniors Steven Dunbar and Linell Bonner have been been the primary weapons in the Houston passing game, combining for just under 50% of Allen/Postma's targets. It's safe to say defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary knows who exactly to stick Mazzi Wilkins and Ronnie Hoggins/Deatrick Nichols on.

When USF Runs...

Team Rushing Success Rate Run Explosiveness Stuff Rate
Team Rushing Success Rate Run Explosiveness Stuff Rate
USF Offense 45 25 64
UH Defense 85 60 43

USF rushers combined for over 300 yards on the ground in their 34-28 win over Tulane last Saturday, the fifth time they've done that this year.

Buuuuuutttttt....that's going be a challenge this week when you have the monster that is Ed Oliver blowing straight through your double-teams and making your life a living hell.

OH GOODNESS, WHO PISSED HIM OFF?!

Even after spraining his MCL versus Temple, the Houston native has been every bit as disruptive as you'd expect, leading the team in run stuffs (11), tackles for loss (7), and forced fumbles (2).

Even with Oliver, however, Houston does rank 85th in defensive rushing success rate (44.5%). Teams have been able to move the ball somewhat effectively on them during standard running downs. We'll see how a run-heavy USF offense schemes their way past the Cougar front seven, especially with senior linebacker Matthew Adams out with injury for this game.

When USF Passes...

Team Passing Success Rate Pass Explosiveness
Team Passing Success Rate Pass Explosiveness
USF Offense 105 12
UH Defense 80 124

While Quinton Flowers' accuracy has been an issue in 2017, when he connects, he connects big. Which explains why USF is 105th in passing success rate but 12th in explosiveness. With the Cougar secondary ranking 124th in pass explosiveness, the opportunity is their for Flowers and company to spring big plays through the air... should they have time.

Watch for safeties Garrett Davis and Terrell Williams, who have combined for seven INTs on the year as well as corners Isaiah Johnson and Jeremy Winchester.

Special Teams:

For Houston, kicker Caden Novikoff has been consistent, going 7-9 on field goal attempts while kicking a perfect 100% in PAT's

Punter Dane Roy is averaging 40.1 yards per punt, with 17 pinned inside the 20 and three touchbacks. Listed at 6'7", 240, it is with a heavy heart I must inform you that the Australian-born punter is indeed larger than our very own Large Adult Punter.

On USF's side, yeah, no more blocked kicks please.

Bottom Line:

While Houston does have talent all over the field including a future top-five NFL Draft pick on their defensive line, turnovers, injuries, and inconsistency with Kyle Postma has kneecapped them for the past two weeks.

The line is listed at USF -10 and Bill C.'s numbers project the Bulls winning by 13. I think that's about right. It'll be a one-score game at halftime and the Bulls tack on a few touchdowns in the third to create some distance. I'll say:

USF 38, Houston 27