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Jay Drew
Jay covers BYU athletics for The Salt Lake Tribune. You can follow him on Twitter @drewjay.

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BYU eyes Houston team that's winning with a freshman quarterback

Not only are the Houston Cougars undefeated this season, the true freshman who will be starting at quarterback against BYU on Saturday has also yet to taste defeat. John O'Korn, who was a prep quarterback in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at this time last year, will be making his fourth career start at 1:30 p.m. MT at Reliant Stadium, having led the Cougars to wins since taking over prior to the Rice game for junior David Piland.

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Last week, Houston announced that Piland's college career was over, the result of multiple concussions. Piland had started in 20 games for Houston, including the first two this year in which he completed 21 of 40 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown.

"Any time you lose your starting quarterback for the season, it is adversity, it is a major challenge," Houston coach Tony Levine said during Monday's AAC coaches teleconference. "No one envisioned his career ending so abruptly and in this manner. … It had not been easy on David and his family."

O'Korn beat out another freshman, Greg Ward, to replace Piland and has been solid in three starts. He has completed 86 of 145 passes for 1,131 yards and 11 touchdowns, while throwing just one interception. He has also rushed 21 times for 58 net yards.

"They have been team wins," Levine said. "Our defense is playing outstanding, creating a bunch of turnovers. Offensively, through five games, we have only turned it over four times….. We are near the top of the country in [turnover margin]. And then we are playing good special teams.

We have two 18-year-old freshman quarterbacks -- in John O'Korn and Greg Ward -- they are managing the games well, they are making good decisions, they are continuing to improve. I think experience is something you are always uncomfortable with as a football coach.

Those guys are gaining experience. Certainly don' have anywhere near the experience that David Piland had. … The kids are playing hard. I feel like we are doing what we need to do right now to win each game each week, at this point."

The game will be televised on ESPNews and will be the first-ever matchup between teams known for the throwing the ball and having wide-open offenses. Naturally, both teams are known by their defenses this year.

It will be Houston's third game at Reliant Stadium this season; The Cougars beat Southern and Rice at the home of the NFL's Houston Texans so far in 2013. Houston is 5-0 for the fifth time in school history.

Levine didn't say much about BYU on Monday, except in his opening statement when he noted, "Our focus now is on a very good, very talented, very physical and very well-coached BYU team. Glad to continue to be in Houston this week. I think our players are excited about this next opportunity, this next challenge."

Although receiver Deontay Greenberry is clearly the offense's best player, Houston does have several capable running backs as well. Greenberry has caught 39 passes for 606 yards and three touchdowns.

Ryan Jackson has 76 carries for 391 yards, an average of 5.1 yards per carry. Kenneth Farrow has packed it 44 times for 208 yards.

"Offensively, our offense, we certainly feel like we can throw it, but we have talented running backs and a solid offensive line to open up holes when we want to use the running game," Levine said. "Philosophically, we want to see how defenses are going to attack us, and we feel like if they are going to put more defenders in what we call the box, meaning near the line of scrimmage, then we are going to throw the football.

If they have more on the perimeter, and more in coverage, and less in the box, we will hand it off.

Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow, two sophomore running backs for us, are very, very talented. We don't feel like we are one-dimensional offensively.

Deontay Greenberry I think statistically has got to be near the top of the country in terms of receiving yards per game. But in the same token, if teams want to focus on shutting down our passing game, we have no problem getting the ball to our backs in the back field and let our offensive line open up holes and let them run.

We try to be balanced as much as we can be, offensively, run to pass, and typically go into games and see what the defensive plan is going to be in terms of trying to stop us."

BYU enters the game at 4-2, but is also a confident bunch after Saturday's 38-20 rout of Georgia Tech. The blue Cougars are a 10-point favorite, acccording to Las Vegas oddsmakers.



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