Utah gets all the attention for beating Stanford, but BYU handled its business last week as well, dispatching Georgia Tech 38-20. The Cougars were effective in the passing game and stifling on defense, harrassing Tech’s triple option defense all afternoon long. However, BYU will face a stiff test this week against an undefeated Houston team on the road. Houston has easily dispatched most of its opponents, scoring at least 22 points in each of its five victories and averaging nearly 40 points per game. Will BYU continue its three game win streak on the road? Or will Houston’s high-powered offense be enough to keep the Texas-based Cougars undefeated? Here’s a position-by-position look at this week’s matchup and which team will have the edge heading into Saturday’s game:
Taysom Hill continues to come into his own as a passer and has gradually improved with every game this season. The sophomore racked up 244 yards on 19-of-27 attempts and threw one touchdown while adding a rushing touchdown and 65 yards on the ground. After struggling through the first four games of the season, Hill is 36-of-57 for four touchdowns, 522 yards and only one interception in the last two games. The coaches have also reigned in his rushing attempts, hoping to strike a more balanced offensive philosophy. Hill is stil hovering around a 47 percent completion rate and has only a seven to five touchdown to interception rate, but there are signs of progress.
Houston freshman phenomenon John O’Korn has been dominant so far, passing for 11 touchdowns to only one interception, averaging 226 yards per game and throwing multiple touchdowns in three of five games. However, those statistics need to be put in perspective as Houston has played Temple, Rice, Southern, Memphis and UTSA. However, BYU can’t afford to take him lightly, even in a match up where BYU will have superior athletes on defense.
Jamaal Williams looks fine after his concussion injury a few weeks ago, rumbling for 86 yards and a touchdown against Georgia Tech. Williams continues to shoulder the load for the Cougars offense, leading the way with nearly 109 yards per game and 543 yards total. Algernon Brown seems to be the coache’s favorite as a the guy who takes over when Williams needs a breather and has 136 yards and a touchdown this season.
Completing Houston’s young backfield along with O’Korn, sophomore Ryan Jackson has been the workhorse back for the Cougars so far this season. Jackson has 391 yards and four touchdowns this season. However, Jackson struggled mightily last week against Memphis for only seven yards and zero touchdowns, a disturbing pattern as his yards per carry and yards per game have fallen off every week since the season opener against Southern. Sophomore Kenneth Farrow is Jackson’s back up and has 216 yards and two touchdowns of his own.
Cody Hoffman finally came alive against Georgia Tech, a welcome sight for a BYU team that is still struggling to find a go-to receiver. Hoffman had 99 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, his best performance since the rivalry game against Utah. Hoffman is still considered the most talented receiver on the team, but after a huge performance against Utah State, Mitch Mathews leads the team with three touchdowns and is second to Hoffman in receiving yards. As Hill continues to improve as a passer, the receivers have benefitted, a good sign for the rest of the season.
Sophomore Deontay Greenberry has been the target of most of O’Korn’s passing success, racking up 606 yards and three touchdowns along with an average of 121 yards per game. BYU has yet to have a single receiver average more than 90 yards receiving per game. Greenberry has been dominant the last three weeks with 371 yards receiving and two touchdowns, showing that he’s picking up steam as the season has gone along. Junior Daniel Spencer has been a solid target as well, catching 18 passes for 240 yards and four touchdowns.
BYU’s offensive line continues to struggle and has yet to find its rhythm, giving up 14 sacks this season. Hill was sacked three times against Georgia Tech, an alarming number for a middle of the pack ACC defense. After he was sacked three times against Utah State, almost half of the quarterback takedowns surrendered by BYU have come in the last two weeks.
Houston’s offensive line has held up well, surrendering only five sacks this season. Although BYU has faced superior competition week in and week out, it’s still noteable that Houston has been able to keep O’Korn upright for the most part. The freshman quarterback has been sacked only twice in the last three weeks.
Defensive line and linebackers
BYU’s defensive front had a field day against Georgia Tech, rolling for four sacks and holding every Georgia Tech rusher under 100 yards for the day. Kyle Van Noy continues to show why his name is mentioned among the best defensive players in the country and has amassed 10 tackles for loss, four sacks, an interception, 10 quarterback hits and 39 tackles. Alani Fua, Remington Peck and Eathyn Manumaleuna continue to impress with a combined 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. Total, the BYU defense has 34 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 2013.
Houston has plenty of defensive talent as well. The team has combined for eight sacks and 23 tackles for loss, with nine players with at least one tackle for loss and six with at least one sack. The defensive front is also holding opposing offenses to only 126 yards rushing per game. Junior Trevor Harris has been the leader of the defense with 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks, but freshman phenomenon Tyus Bowser is worth noting too. Bowser has 3.5 tackles for loss and leads the team with three sacks.
It’s hard to gauge if BYU has made progress in defending against the pass after facing a run first team like Georgia Tech. They held Yellowjacket passer Vad Lee to 133 yards passing on only seven completions with zero touchdowns and an interception, but Georgia Tech has never been known to have great quarterbacks. Overall, BYU is still struggling in this department, giving up nearly 200 yards per game and surrendering 9 touchdowns, or four more than Hill has passed for to put it in perspective. If Houston can contain the BYU defensive front pressure, the Cougar secondary may have a long day against O’Korn.
Houston surrenders a staggering 269 yards per game through the air, but has kept opposing offenses to only five touchdowns. Most importantly, Houston has made use of the errors of opposing passers, grabbing eight interceptions so far this season. Senior defensive back Zachary McMillian, who has two interceptions and has broken up three passes, is a player to watch in this game.
Prediction: Although Houston is undefeated and has had a great season so far, it’s hard to ignore the superior athletes and the superior track record of the BYU players. As long as Hill can get on a roll and keep the Houston defense honest with his arm, BYU should win this one comfortably 35-21.