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UH football: Previewing the Cougars home opener against Kansas

UH defensive end Derek Parish is coming off an AAC record 4.5 sack performance against Texas Tech, earning him the conference's Defensive Player of the Week honors. | Courtesy of UH athletics

UH defensive end Derek Parish is coming off an AAC record 4.5 sack performance against Texas Tech, earning him the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week honors. | Courtesy of UH athletics

For the second consecutive week, UH football gets a taste of what the future will be like in the Big 12 as the Cougars host Kansas on Saturday in their home opener.

After falling to Texas Tech in double overtime in Week 2, UH continues to be without a win against a Big 12 opponent since the 2016 opener when the Cougars knocked off Baker Mayfield and No. 3 Oklahoma at NRG Stadium.

UH has another chance to snap its losing streak against a Big 12 opponent in Kansas, who is 3-0 all-time against the Cougars.

A look at Kansas

For the first time since 2011, the Jayhawks are 2-0 to start the season.

Not only is Kansas winning games, but it is doing it with some style as the Jayhawks are one of the top teams in the nation in scoring offense at 52.5 points per game.

“It ain’t the Kansas of old,” said UH football head coach Dana Holgorsen.

The Jayhawks’ high-powered offense starts with their quarterback Jalon Daniels, a true dual threat who UH senior defensive end Derek Parish compared to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

“Their quarterback is electric when he gets in space,” said UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk. “Probably the best combination of a runner and passer that we have seen up to this point and that’s saying a lot.”

As a passer, Daniels has a 70.2 percent completion rate for a total of 408 yards and four touchdowns through two games. As a runner, Daniels has tallied 114 yards on the ground, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.

Along with Daniels’ production with his legs, Kansas’ running back duo of Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw Jr. have combined for 269 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground two games into the season.

As a team, Kansas is 12th in the country in rushing offense, averaging 248.5 yards per game.

Defensively, the Jayhawks have surrendered 52 points through two games, the bulk of which came in their Week 2 overtime win over West Virginia.

The Kansas defense has been in the middle of the pack in terms of defending the pass and run, ranking 78th against the pass and 58th against the run.

As a defense, the Jayhawks have recorded five sacks and forced three turnovers on the season.

Senior linebacker Rich Miller leads the Jayhawks’ defense with 18 tackles.

Key Questions for UH

Does UH clean up its self-inflicting wounds?

Lack of discipline has plagued the Cougars early in the season and left Holgorsen furious.

“Our program needs to learn to be more disciplined,” Holgorsen said. “There’s no question. Too many penalties. Too many dumb things.”

Through two games, UH has been penalized 23 times, losing 201 yards.

Being behind the chains offensively and giving the opponent second chances with the ball is not a recipe for success.

Heading into the matchup, Holgorsen’s message to his team was simple and straight to the point.

“Don’t do stupid crap,” Holgorsen said.

Will the UH offense get off to a fast start?

First half struggles have been a major storyline for the UH offense.

Through two games, the Cougars’ offense has put up 10 total first half points, forcing them to have to dig themselves out of a hole in the second half.

Senior quarterback Clayton Tune equates the slow starts to issues like missed details and misaligment.

“We’re not doing the little things right,” Tune said.

With the way Kansas can put points on the board in a hurry, the UH offense can’t afford to come out of the gates lackadaisical for a third straight week.

How does the UH defense tackle?

While the Cougars’ defense has done enough to make up for the offensive struggles and put the team in a position to win, missed tackles have been an issue.

Two UTSA touchdowns in the season opener and another two Texas Tech touchdowns the next week have been a direct result of the UH defense failing to wrap up.

With the way the Jayhawks runs the ball and the elusiveness of their quarterback, the Cougars’ defense will have their hands full and it could be a long afternoon if they continue to struggle in the tackling department.

How does UH match up with Kansas?

The Cougars have their hands full against a Jayhawks bunch that is unlike the typical Kansas team that wins two to three games a year.

“They’re extremely well coached and they’re a very tricky tricky bunch to prepare for,” Holgorsen said.

UH has the weapons on both sides of the ball to hand Kansas its first loss on the season but it will come down to how clean of a game the Cougars play.

If the Cougars continue to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties and lack of execution, then the Jayhawks will push them to the brink and a third straight overtime game for UH would be a real possibility.

On the other hand, if UH cleans things up and can score a couple of first-half touchdowns then it should snap their losing streak to Big 12 teams.

How to watch

Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. and the game will air on ESPNU. It can also be heard via radio on KPRC 950 AM.

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