Cougars look to hang 10 on the Crimson Tide
Homecoming, 0-9 all time, 90,000 plus fans screaming and a team that is coming off two tough losses.
Those are some elements the Cougars are going to have to contend with going into Saturday’s game against Alabama.
Houston will travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala. and square off with the Crimson Tide at 2 p.m. in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The Cougars are walking into a hostile crowd as it is, but on Saturday Alabama has its homecoming game against Houston.
A lot seems to be going against the Cougars, but players have experienced tough crowds before, even in this season’s opener against Oregon in Eugene.
"We just have to go in there and execute. We’ve played in big games like this. It’s going to be loud – 100,000 people – but it’s going to be a fun environment," sophomore quarterback Blake Joseph said. "We’re just going in there with a mentality to win, and we have to execute and do what we do."
As for the starting quarterback spot, the job is still in the air. Joseph took the bulk of the snaps for the Cougars in practice Tuesday because redshirt freshman quarterback Case Keenum is still nursing a bruised hand he suffered against East Carolina on Saturday.
It’s been apparent in the first four games that the starting quarterback doesn’t finish the game and the backup puts up solid numbers, but Joseph said he doesn’t think there’s a problem with either Keenum or himself.
"If we’re not moving the ball, me or Case comes in to bring some spark to the team and get the offense going," Joseph said. "It was hard starting the games off because a lot of teams change what they do. When we watch them on film, they come out and change what they do.
"Like last week against East Carolina, they were supposed to have a four-man front, but they came out with a three-man front with five or six defensive backs. So it’s just different looks we get, and when we get into the game we start understanding what they’re doing."
Houston will have to get senior running back Anthony Alridge going in the running game early to keep Alabama honest and not just play the pass.
Other than the game against Oregon, Alridge seems to have a hard time starting games. However, he seems to find his rhythm and make his big runs in the second half.
"Like I said, a lot of teams change their defensive strategies and we also make adjustments, and he sees the hole better in the second half. Anthony’s a great player," Joseph said. "He always gives 110 percent every game. We just make adjustments at halftime and change the blocking schemes and stuff like that. But he’s always 100 percent, and he’s a great football player."
The defensive game plan seems simple to senior linebacker Brendan Pahulu.
"We prepare for every team the same way: go out there and tackle them, hit them in the mouth on their side of the ball and take it to them…. It’s another walk in the park – that’s it," Pahulu said.
The defense will have to be prepared and on its heels because the Crimson Tide offense is well-balanced, running 188 rushing plays and 195 passing plays.
The two-headed tandem of running backs Terry Grant and Glen Coffee will be a task for the Cougars to deal with. Both Grant and Coffee are averaging more than five yards-a-carry and have combined for seven rushing touchdowns.
In the passing game, Alabama has a nice twosome with quarterback John Parker Wilson and wide receiver D.J. Hall. Three of the six touchdown passes Wilson has thrown have gone to Hall.
"(Alabama does) what they do. They don’t try to fool you or trick you or anything like that," head coach Art Briles said. "They try to do it with good people and they got good folks. They got five starters back on the offensive line, and they got their receivers and quarterback back. They have a lot of people they had back from last year and it’ll be a good test for us."
Historically, the Cougars are 0-9 against Alabama, and this will be the first time Briles will go up against the Crimson Tide.
"I guess we’re due. They’re going to be determined just like we are, though. We’re coming off a tough week too. That’s just part of it…. I have a lot of confidence in our guys and how we’re going to play," Briles said.
Alabama’s coach Nick Saban won a national championship with Louisiana State in 2003, and more recently had a brief stint with the Miami Dolphins. However, Briles said it’s just about the two teams competing.
"It’s certainly not about Saban and me. He knows who I am," Briles said. "It’s about our football team against his football team. It’s our university against their university. So that has no bearing on the game."