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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Football

Roundtable: Can Cougars capture the Cardinals?


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The Cougars defeated the Cardinals in week two last season, but head coach Tom Herman calls this year’s team “a whole different animal.” | Courtesy of UH Athletics

The football team is set to battle one of the nation’s top teams Thursday inside TDECU Stadium on Thursday.

Head coach Tom Herman and his staff must deal with a University of Louisville Cardinals team that ranks among the best in both offensive and defensive categories.

With a banged-up team and a short week of preparation, here is how The Cougar sports staff sees the game will play out:

Sports editor Reagan Earnst

Predicting Thursday’s matchup against Louisville is tough.

On one hand, the Cougars are still the same team that defeated the No. 3 ranked University of Oklahoma on Sept. 3. That team dominated their early portion of the schedule and, although early in the season, was in the mix for College Football Playoff consideration.

Then October happened.

The team was banged-up and started to expose their lack of depth on their way to dropping winnable games against Southern Methodist University and the United States Naval Academy. This team also struggled with the University of Tulsa and needed a historic comeback to take down the University of Central Florida.

How the Cougars fare against the Cardinals depends on which team decides to show up.

Stopping Lamar Jackson is no easy task for even the best defenses and the Cougars’ hands will be full all night.

Instead of trying to stop Jackson, however, the Cougars must tune their offense to compete with Louisville’s production.

The Cougars will have to perform better on offense Thursday than they have in past weeks. Failing to win the turnover differential has spelled defeat for the Cougars multiple times this season.

Senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. is not 100 percent healthy, but he will still need to have a career-best performance to knock off the Cardinals.

The Cougars can edge out a narrow victory if Ward can come through when it matters most, and the offense can produce while limiting careless mistakes. Should they fail to do these things, however, the game can get ugly in a hurry.

Assistant sports editor Jonathan Valadez

It’s hard to say what’s going to happen Thursday since both teams’ trajectories have gone in completely different directions since the start of the season.

Early in the season, I would’ve picked UH to beat the University of Louisville, even after their thrashing of Florida State University. After five straight uninspiring games, though, it’s tough to choose a team that has become derailed for one reason or another.

The only saving grace for the Cougars is that they play their best football against ranked teams under head coach Tom Herman, which may not be enough.

The Cougars enter the game with a suspect rushing attack and a passing game that lately hasn’t been able to connect on many throws over 15 yards. Even if senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. suits up, he’ll face a defense that is ranked sixth in the nation.

On the defensive side, the Cougars will line up across the country’s No. 1 offense. Heisman-favorite Lamar Jackson leads Louisville and is 13th in passing yards and sixth in rushing yards per game.

The Cardinals as a whole are averaging a ridiculous 583.2 yards per game, which is almost 130 more than UH, while playing FSU and Clemson University.

Although the Cougars will fight hard to keep it close, I think the Cardinals will walk out of TDECU Stadium with a 42-31 victory.

Senior staff writer J.D. Smith

The No. 3 ranked Louisville Cardinals will represent the toughest match the Cougars have faced in the Tom-Herman era.

Featuring Heisman favorite quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Cardinal offense will give defensive coordinator Todd Orlando nightmares all week.

Leading the NCAA with 49.6 points and 583.2 yards per game, the Cardinals have yet to be stopped, with their lone loss of the season coming in a thrilling 42-36 loss against then No. 5 Clemson University Tigers.

Not to be outdone, however, the Cardinal defense has been nearly as good as their offense this season, ranking 16th overall in scoring defense (20.3 ppg) and sixth in total defense.

Looking to make their way back into the national conversation, the Cougars will have to play like the team that beat the University of Oklahoma Sooners by 10 and not the one that’s struggled against five straight American Athletic Conference opponents.

After starting the season with the top-ranking rush defense, the Cougars have struggled recently, giving up 31.4 points and 143.5 rushing yards per game over their last five.

If the Cougars play to their full talent and potential, an upset is not out of the question. If they are more reminiscent of the team that has struggled in the conference, it will be a long night for the Cougars faithful.

After the season that started with such promise, a packed TDECU Stadium will watch a better version of Greg Ward Jr. in Lamar Jackson: running wild, cementing his Heisman Trophy campaign , leaving UH fans to think about what might have been.

No. 3 Louisville 42 – Houston 24.

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