Four keys for UH to earn bowl victory

Freshman quarterback John O'Korn could get his first start Saturday against Rice. | Justin Tijerina/ The Daily Cougar

Freshman quarterback John O’Korn set a UH freshman record with 26 touchdown passes this season and will be counted upon if the Cougars hope to get a victory in the BBVA Compass Bowl. | Justin Tijerina/ The Daily Cougar

UH is a three-point underdog to its BBVA Compass Bowl opponent Vanderbilt. Here are four keys for the Cougars to upset the Commodores on Saturday at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

Stopping the run: With a redshirt freshman at the helm whose best assets may be his legs, Vanderbilt has less incentive to throw the ball 30 times. Vanderbilt senior quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels is still recovering from surgery, so redshirt freshman Patton Robinette will start. Robinette and running back Jerron Seymour form a formidable backfield combination. However, the Cougars have been solid up the middle with two linebackers — juniors Derrick Mathews and Efrem Oliphant — who have more than 100 tackles.

Red zone scoring: To defeat Vanderbilt, UH will need to score touchdowns instead of field goals in a game that likely won’t be high-scoring. The Cougars have struggled in the red zone this season. On Sept. 7 against Temple, UH made eight trips inside the opposing 20-yard line but scored only one touchdown. For the season, the Cougars have scored touchdowns on only 58 percent of red zone appearances. Fortunately for the Cougars, the Commodores aren’t a great at red zone defense. They allow a score on 88 percent of red zone attempts.

The turnover battle: The Cougars have given up yards this season, but they have stiffened up in the red zone and forced opposing offenses into mistakes. After successfully causing turnovers all season, forcing interceptions and fumbles is the norm. UH leads the nation in turnovers forced and turnover margin. To defeat the Commodores, the Cougars will need to win the turnover battle again.

QB play: Quarterback John O’Korn has set the record for touchdowns by a freshman, but he struggled against the two best defenses he saw this season during narrow losses to UCF and Louisville. O’Korn has had more than two weeks to prepare for the Commodores’ tough defense.

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