The Houston Cougars are 0-2, but don’t tell quarterback David Piland. Despite former Head Coach Kevin Sumlin leaving for Texas A&M, the Cougars aerial attack is still lethal.
Just two games into the season and first-year starter, Piland, has made a mark on the Houston program. Last week, Piland threw the ball 77 times. Yes, 77 times! He completed 53 passes for 580 yards, 4 TD’s, and no interceptions. I would say those are video game numbers, but even that may be understating his performance.
Despite the lethal passing game, Houston averages only 31 points per game. 31 ppg is good, but last year they averaged nearly 50 ppg en route to a school best 13-1 season.
The pace of the Houston offense is on a totally different level than anyone UCLA will face this year (unless they make it to the Pac 12 championship against Oregon). Last week, Houston ran 115 plays. Of those 115 plays, they ran the ball 38 times, but only averaged 3 yards per carry. As evidenced by the statistics, Houston’s offense is very one dimensional.
Digging deeper into the passing attack, Houston will hit defenses with short passes all game long. To keep the defense on their heels, however, they will take shots deep from time to time. Defensive linemen for UCLA will need to get their hands up, deflect passes, and generally be disruptive all game. If UCLA’s defensive line can create pressure and push the pocket back, the timing of the Houston quick attack will be thrown off.
UCLA’s linebackers will be key in the game, as well. Inside linebackers need to do a much better job in coverage than in the previous weeks. Eric Kendricks and Damien Holmes have been getting lost in zone coverage far too frequently through two weeks. The outside linebackers will be especially key this week. With 77 passing attempts, there are 77 chances to rush the passer.
The secondary will really be put to the test for the first time this season. Defensive Coordinator Lou Spanos will likely throw many different coverages at Houston to confuse the offense. In nickel and dime coverage, Randall Goforth will be called on and have chances to redeem himself for the two dropped interceptions last week (he played great, by the way). This game presents an opportunity for the much-maligned and often overhyped Aaron Hester and, if healthy, Sheldon Price, to prove that they are quality corners.
Houston may score a lot of points this Saturday, but if UCLA can avoid giving up the quick strike, they will be satisfied after four quarters. If David Piland is forced to throw the ball 77 times against the Bruins, the team will be in a good position to win the game. If UCLA forces a few turnovers, expect a route. Despite the high powered offense, Houston’s defense is one of the worst in the country and we will discuss that tomorrow. A handful of stops is all UCLA will need to win this game.