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Saturday, December 9, 2023


Five things to watch for in Cougars’ first AAC game

The Cougars will get the grudge match that most have anticipated from last season’s 19-14 loss, which came down to the final play of the game against the eventual American Athletic Conference champion Knights.  |  File photo/The Cougar

Both UH and UCF are coming off bye weeks and will face off in its first conference game, with UH (2-2) boasting its most complete game during a 47-14 win over UNLV on Sept. 18, and UCF (1-2) coming off a 41-7 stomping over Bethune-Cookman on the same date.

Here are five things to expect from the Cougars-Knights game Thursday night on ESPN.

1: UH’s havoc-wreaking “Third Ward Defense”:

The Cougars’ defense looks stronger than ever, with dominant performances in three of four games this season. It is tied with Louisville for fifth in the nation with 13 total takeaways.

It is tied for fourth in the nation with eight interceptions, and includes tackling machines Efrem Oliphant and Derrick Mathews at linebacker. Both players are individually ranked high in total tackles.

2: Keep your eye on UH’s Adrian McDonald:

No matter where he is on the field, the UH junior safety always seems to have a knack for finding the ball, whether its ripping the ball away from receivers and taking it the other way, or picking it off. McDonald has a team-high two interceptions to go along with his forced fumble and two recoveries.

He will look to extend his forced-turnover streak to eight games, dating back to last season.

3: The faster, the better:

The Cougars are 7-0 after winning the first quarter with Travis Bush as the offensive coordinator. They have an 0-9 record when they don’t. Numbers don’t lie, and a good start could provide enough momentum to ride the Cougars to their first conference win of the season.

4: Will UH, Travis Bush stick to the run?:

Whenever the Cougars have stuck to the run, they are nearly unbeatable.

In offensive coordinator Travis Bush’s 16 games, dating back to the early 2012 season, the rushing attack has recorded better than 255 yards per game with an average six yards per carry — all resulting in his seven wins.

When he doesn’t stick to the run, Bush’s rush attack has managed only 78 yards per game with a 3.1 yards per rush — all resulting in his nine losses. In the wins, the offense ran the ball an average of 42 times, compared to the 25 in losses.

5: Which John O’Korn will we see?:

Will we see the O’Korn who threw four interceptions on the opening of TDECU Stadium against UTSA, or will we see the O’Korn who threw three touchdowns at No. 25 BYU on Sept. 11, where he made throws worthy of NFL play?

If O’Korn plays mistake-free football, I expect the Cougars to run away with this game.

The win against UNLV was close at halftime only because of O’Korn’s two interceptions. But when he got his groove back in the third quarter, opening up with two touchdown passes, it became a blowout, complemented with a strong defense that constantly rushed the passer.

It will be imperative to keep the reigning American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year’s throwing attempts to a minimum.

The Cougars are 7-2 when O’Korn has less than 40 attempts as a starter, but are 1-5 when he exceeds that number.

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