Know Your Foe: Texas Tech Football Faces Balanced Houston Cougars

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 16: Kevrin Justice
HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 16: Kevrin Justice /

The Texas Tech football team will look to move to 3-0 on the season but to do so it will have to defeat a Houston Cougars squad that is the most balanced opponent of the young season.

Saturday morning in Houston, the Texas Tech football team has an opportunity to finish the non-conference portion of its schedule with a 3-0 mark.  Doing so would put the Red Raiders half way to earning bowl eligibility while instilling confidence in the team and the fan base.  But standing in the way is a talented 2-0 Houston team that poses threats on both sides of the ball.

Any discussion about the Cougars must begin with superstar defensive tackle Ed Oliver.  The former 5-star prospect decided to play for his hometown team and is the centerpiece of the Houston defense.

The 6-foot-3, 290-pounder is likely to be a top-10 draft pick in the 2019 NFL draft and he is the emotional and physical leader of the Houston program.  Oliver will certainly be the focal point of the Texas Tech offensive line, especially considering the fact that the Tech o-line features three players on the interior that were either not with the program last year or did not play the same position a year ago as they do now.

True freshman guard Jack Anderson is likely to see plenty of Oliver as the Cougars look to put their most dominant defender on Texas Tech’s least experienced blocker.  Senior center Paul Stawarz, who played guard last year is likely going to be used to help either Anderson or the other guard, JUCO signee Jacob Hines, in double-teaming Oliver most of the afternoon.

On the season, Oliver has amassed 17 tackles in two games.  However, he has yet to record a sack.  That is likely due to the attention he receives from opposing offensive coordinators each week.  Still, his presence will mean that Texas Tech must be able to block the remaining Houston pass rushers in one-on-one match-ups with little or no help.

As a team, Houston has only four sacks in two games.  However, that could be due to the fact that their two opponents, Arizona and Rice attempted a total of just 62 passes.

Houston enters the game ranked No. 38 in the nation in total defense allowing just 306.5  yards per game.  However, the Cougars have yet to face an offense even remotely as potent as the Texas Tech “Air Raid” offense.

Rice’s offense is ranked just 116th in the nation while Arizona is ranked No 29.  By comparison, Texas Tech is putting up 620 yards per game, tops in the nation.  That is 131 yards more per contest than the Wildcats.

Texas Tech will likely want to be more balanced against Houston than it was against Arizona State when it had a 50-29 pass-run split.  That will be tough given the presence of Oliver in the middle of the defensive front so Tech could look to exploit the edge of the Cougar defense with Justin Stockton or on sweeps with speedy inside receivers Keke Coutee and Cam Batson.

On the other side of the ball, Texas Tech will be facing one of the most accurate passers in the nation.  Houston quarterback Kyle Allen, the former Texas A&M starter, has completed all but nine of his 65 passes in 2017. His 86.2% completion rate is the best in college football.

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However, Allen’s stats are a bit inflated by the scheme the Cougars employ.  Much of Houston’s offense under 1st year head coach Major Applewhite is built around bubble screens and swing passes.

Subsequently, Allen’s 9.54 yards per completion ranks just 107th in the nation.  Nic Shimonek, on the other hand ranks 19th with 14.71 yards per completion.

This means that Texas Tech’s secondary and linebackers must swarm to the ball and pursue in numbers.  Fortunately, that has been a strength of the revamped secondary thus far.  Tech must not let the Houston receivers break tackles and turn swing passes into big plays.

Another name on the Houston offense that may be familiar to Texas Tech fans is that of running back Duke Catalon.  The one-time Longhorn has been productive during his time at Houston and the 6-foot, 215-pouder is a dangerous runner averaging 4.4 yard per carry this year.

The Houston offense is not built to engage in a shootout with the Red Raiders.  Applewhite’s offense is deliberate and physical but lacks the overall speed needed to be as explosive as Texas Tech’s offense.  Still, the UH offense is dangerous and capable of putting points on the board.

Ultimately though, the Cougars will look to their defense to set the tone.  Behind Oliver, Houston will try to establish itself as the more physical team and turn the game into a street fight.  If Texas Tech is to beat its former Southwest Conference rival, the Red Raiders will have to play with the same intensity all afternoon as they did during the first half against Arizona State.

Next: Football Shows Defensive Improvement Against Arizona State

Houston is a hard-nosed team that has rallied around its city and each other in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.  Texas Tech will be in for a battle in the Bayou City and must play its best game of the year on both sides of the ball to remain undefeated.