Provo • One statistic in particular has jumped out at the BYU Cougars as they have prepared this week to take on the relatively unknown Houston Cougars in a non-conference game at Reliant Stadium on Saturday.
That statistic is turnover margin.
Houston (5-0) leads the country in that category, with a plus-14 margin. The Cougars have forced 18 turnovers and given the ball away just four times. BYU (4-2) is tied for 96th in the country in turnover margin at minus-3, with 11 turnovers and eight takeaways.
“Oh my gosh, they major in turnovers, getting them,” BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae said. “They have been outstanding at that this year. … That’s a lot of turnovers that they’ve been getting.”
Some have suggested that this is a trap game for BYU, coming in between home games against Georgia Tech and Boise State, but the blue Cougars will have nothing of that notion. All week, BYU players and coaches have talked about Houston’s overall team speed, playmaking ability on offense and ballhawking on defense.
“They are undefeated, and in my opinion, that is a nationally ranked team. They should be ranked. They are 5-0,” Anae said.
Perhaps because it has played only the 125th-most-difficult schedule in the country, with wins against Southern, Temple, Rice, Texas-San Antonio and Memphis, Houston is getting just a few votes in the major polls. Jeff Sagarin has Houston ranked 56th in his computerized rankings, BYU 24th.
“The kids are playing hard,” Houston coach Tony Levine said in a teleconference call Monday. “I feel like we are doing what we need to do right now to win each game each week, at this point.”
The Cougars have stayed unbeaten despite playing with a true freshman at quarterback, John O’Korn out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the past three games. Three-year starter David Piland, a junior, had his career ended by recurring concussions after the second game, a 22-13 win at Temple.
“Number 3, their receiver [Deontay Greenberry] is really big and fast. Number 22, their tailback [Ryan Jackson], he is lightning fast, and he’s very agile,” said BYU’s All-America linebacker, Kyle Van Noy. “Their quarterback, even though he’s a freshman, he makes a lot of plays and he can scramble well. They have good, athletic guys all across the board.”
Van Noy said Houston’s 5-0 record makes it impossible to look past the first-place team in the American Athletic Conference.
“I think with them 5-0, we want to go down there and give them their first loss,” Van Noy said. “I think that’s how we look at it.”
Houston is 27th in the country in total offense, averaging 476.6 yards per game, and Greenberry is 10th in the country in receptions per game (7.8) and eighth in receiving yards per game (121.2). O’Korn threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns in the 59-28 win over UTSA.
“If you hadn’t told me he was a freshman, I wouldn’t have guessed,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill said “opportunistic” is the best way to describe Houston’s defense, which is giving up quite a few yards, but not a lot of points. Houston ranks 59th in total defense, yielding 395.4 yards per game, but is tied for 22nd in scoring defense, giving up just 19.0 points per game.
“From what I’ve seen, their linebackers aren’t quite as big as we are used to, but they move around well. They are fast,” Hill said. “… It should be a really good matchup.”
The other Cougars
Where Houston ranks nationally:
Category Rank Stat
Total Offense 27 476.6 ypg
Scoring Offense 19 39.8 ppg
Total Defense 59 395.4 ypg
Scoring Defense T22 19.0 ppg
Turnover Margin 1 2.8
BYU at Houston
P Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • ESPNEWS