Houston Cougars (4-3, 3-1 Conference USA) at Memphis Tigers (1-6, 0-4)
Kickoff: 6:00 PM, 10/30/2010
TV: Comcast Sports Southwest
Houston's dominant performance at SMU last weekend proved that the Cougars are capable of playing with anybody, despite all of the losses the team has suffered. The test this weekend: can the Cougars continue to bring their A-game every game?
Let's be completely honest. Memphis is lousy. This is the easiest game remaining on Houston's schedule, by a mile. Yes, Houston lost to a one-win team just two weeks ago, but that team (Rice) is still easily better than this one. The Cougars can probably win this week with their B- or C-game. But it sure would be reassuring, for a team that has looked flat-out disinterested at times this year, to see the good guys come out playing hard anyway.
The Cougars need a victory this week to keep pace with the Mustangs in C-USA West. SMU has a practically-guaranteed victory slated against Tulane (the Green Wave's shocking victory in El Paso last weekend notwithstanding). Houston needs to keep winning to remain in control of their own destiny. The Cougars have a legitimate chance to win Conference USA under a true freshman quarterback, something they never accomplished with Case Keenum at the helm.
But let's not look ahead - here's how the match-ups break down on Saturday.
Houston offense vs Memphis defense
The Tigers have surrendered 40+ points in five of their seven contests this year, including three straight. They're giving up nearly five yards per carry, and have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 64% of their passes for 12.9 yards per completion and 19 touchdowns. They've forced just six turnovers through seven games. The point I'm trying to make is that the Tigers aren't very good on defense.
The Cougar receiving corps finally looked like it was used to catching passes from David Piland last weekend, breaking a string of two straight poor performances by that unit. Piland's confidence soared, and so did the rest of the offense. The O-line consistently made holes for Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes, who responded by combining to rush for 171 yards. Really, the entire offensive unit looked as good as it has since the UTEP game. And that was against a good defensive team. If they come out with the same intensity, they're going to put up some video game numbers on Saturday.
Memphis offense vs Houston defense
The Tiger offensive line has had a season to forget. Memphis is running for a staggeringly low 2.7 yards per carry, while UM quarterbacks have been sacked 21 times already. When true freshman quarterback Ryan Williams has been able to stay on his feet, he has had some success, including an 11-for-21, 237 yard, 2 TD, 0 INT performance last week against Southern Miss. But really, it's been the running game that has given Houston difficulty this year. The Cougar pass D has been, while imperfect, respectable.
To put it simply, Memphis isn't good enough to beat Houston on the ground, and Houston isn't bad enough for Memphis to beat them through the air.
The Bottom Line
As I said, the Rice defeat ought to keep any Cougar fans from getting too cocky about this weekend's game. But Rice had some things going for it heading into that game. If forced, I could have imagined a scenario in which the Owls pulled off the upset, which they did. I cannot, for the life of me, come up with a way for Memphis to beat us. They just flat-out don't have the personnel. Stranger things have happened this college football season, but this game is pretty close to a stone-cold lock.