BYU football should be wary of Houston

Skyler Ridley caught the game winning touchdown last year against Houston. The Cougars will attempt for similar success in a rematch with Houston this Thursday night. Photo courtesy Mark Philbrick/ BYU Photo
Skyler Ridley caught the game-winning touchdown last year against Houston. The Cougars will aim for similar success in a rematch with Houston on Thursday night. (Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)

It didn’t take long for fans and the media to start buzzing about a possible undefeated Cougar season. BYU’s huge win over Texas last Saturday has ignited steady talk about playoffs and perfection, from campus to radio to ESPN’s Football Power Index, which gives the Cougars the best chance of anyone to win out.

Yet despite all of the positive signs stemming from last Saturday’s win, there’s an inherent danger in looking that far ahead this early. Yes, an undefeated Cougar team battling it out with a one-loss Big 10 or Big 12 team for one of the four playoff spots this December would be interesting. But there’s way too much football left to start dreaming about January yet. And if history has any merit, neither the team nor the fans should underestimate Houston this coming Thursday night.

A history lesson

Consider this: BYU is preparing for its home opener after winning its first two games on the road. In addition to dismantling an also-ran, the Cougars have also traveled to the state of Texas and beaten a perennial Big 12 power house (which lacked its starting quarterback, but still). They’ve busted into the top 25 rankings and are double-digit favorites in their upcoming home opener. They’ll be welcoming a 1-1 team that has already had major struggles against inferior competition.

Yes, the above paragraph is referring to this current season.

But it’s also the exact same story for the opening three games of the 2009 football season.

That year’s home opener didn’t go the way most Cougar fans had anticipated. Florida State, who a week previous needed two scores in the final minute to put away lowly Jacksonville State, waltzed into LaVell Edwards Stadium and proceeded to drop 54 points on the seventh-ranked home team. This shocker came only two weeks after BYU upset the third-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in Dallas.

Beware the early season trap game 

So how do the Cougars prevent a repeat of history? It starts by not overlooking a down but talented Houston squad.

“They’re a good team; they’re capable, and they have a lot of good athletes,” said senior defensive back Craig Bills. “We’re really taking it as a one-game season. We had two good victories, and we still have a ton to work on, so we’re looking forward to Houston and giving it another opportunity to get recognition and get that win.”

Meanwhile, BYU’s offense will need to forget all the accolades and praise it received from its performance in Austin.

“We don’t try to pay attention to any of that,” said native Houston receiver Jordan Leslie. “(Texas) was just another win, and now we’ve got to get ready for Houston. We can’t be too satisfied.”

BYU is already well acquainted with the Houston Cougars, defeating them last year in dramatic come-from-behind fashion on the road. Houston will return sophomore quarterback John O’Korn, who threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s meeting and will be the best quarterback BYU has faced so far in this season.

“Their quarterback is definitely capable of making plays downfield,” Bills said. “It showed last year when we played them.”

O’Korn will be looking to get the ball into the hands of 2013 all-AAC player Deontay Greenberry, one of the nation’s most explosive wide receivers. BYU’s defensive front seven will attempt to limit any Greenberry success by putting pressure on Houston’s young offensive line, which fields three new starters from last year. Look for O’Korn to counter the Cougar blitzing with a number of screens and quick passes.

Defensively, Houston lived and and died by the turnover in 2013. The unit gave up an average of 415 yards per game last year but made up for it by leading the nation in turnover margin. Taysom Hill and the offense should be able to pick up right where they left off by racking up some major yardage — the real key will be protecting the ball from a defense that intercepted Hill three times last year.

The start of the 2014 season in many ways has paralleled the 2009 one. We’ll find out whether or not those similarities continue tomorrow night when Cougars take on Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium.


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