FACTS & STATS: Site: High Point Solutions Stadium (52,454) -- Piscataway , New Jersey. Television: ESPN News. Home Record: Houston 2-1, Rutgers 3-0. Away Record: Houston 2-0, Rutgers 1-2. Neutral Record: Houston 1-0, Rutgers 0-0. Conference Record: Houston 2-0, Rutgers 1-1. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: New conference foes Rutgers and Houston will meet for the first time when the Scarlet Knights host the Cougars in an American Athletic Conference battle at High Point Solutions Stadium.
The first season for Houston in the AAC since coming over from Conference USA has been a success to this point. The Cougars enter play with a 5-1 overall record, though their most recent game ended in a 47-46 loss at home to BYU. Houston has won its first two league contests with victories over Temple (22-13) and Memphis (25-15). This game will present more of a challenge as the Owls and Tigers are a combined 1-11 overall.
Rutgers has had ample time to prepare for this game as it has been off since Oct. 10 when it faced Louisville. In that contest the Scarlet Knights fell for just the second time this season, dropping the 24-10 decision. The Scarlet Knights had won four straight games prior to the letdown but are currently tied with SMU for sixth in the league with a 1-1 split of their league matchups.
It was far from out of the ordinary that Houston was able to post big offensive numbers in its loss to BYU. No team in the AAC is scoring more points per game (40.8) than the Cougars and only Louisville is producing more in terms of total offense (477.7 ypg).
John O'Korn and the Cougars' offense got some help from the defense and special teams this past weekend though, as Houston scored 16 points on a safety, kickoff return and interception return. The help was needed as O'Korn struggled with his ball security. Entering play O'Korn had thrown just a single interception in the first five games but he was picked off three times on Saturday, while totaling 363 yards and three touchdowns on 29-of-45 passing. Overall, O'Korn has thrown for 1,494 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions, completing passes at a 60.5 percent clip.
O'Korn piled up plenty of yards but was not very generous with his passes. Deontay Greenberry continued his impressive season with 11 receptions for 68 yards and two touchdowns, while Daniel Spencer and Xavier Maxwell each had 100-yard games. The Cougars have had a 100-yard receiver in five games this season. Greenberry has completed the task three times and holds team-highs in receptions (50), yards (674) and touchdowns (five). He is one of only two receivers in the conference averaging more than 100 yards per game.
Ryan Jackson had a bounce back performance against BYU after he was held to seven yards on seven carries in the previous week against Memphis. Jackson (452 yards, four TDs) rumbled for 61 yards on 14 carries. Kenneth Farrow saw a more diminished role than in previous weeks but with more than 200 yards on the season he is still a part of the offense.
Defensively speaking the Cougars could use some help. Even though teams are only scoring 23.7 points per game, the Cougars are ranked ahead of only Temple in total defense (443 ypg). The effort against BYU showed that the Cougars are susceptible to giving up big plays. Keeping teams to a 37-of-98 conversion rate on third down has helped
Rutgers really struggled offensively against Louisville but has shown some promise on that side of the ball this year, scoring 50 points in two contests. Overall the Scarlet Knights are posting a respectable 35 points per game, while ranking sixth in the AAC in total offense (392.3 ypg).
After making strides forward in the first weeks of the season, Gary Nova really regressed against Louisville. The Rutgers quarterback was picked off a season-high four times and also had his second-lowest completion percentage in a game this season (19-of-36). On the year Nova is connecting on a more respectable 57.3 percent of his pass attempts for 1,373 yards and 14 touchdowns, with eight interceptions. Nova's ball control issues could stem from a lack of protection as he has been sacked 19 times, including eight times against the Cardinals.
It seems that Savon Huggins and Justin Goodwin will continue to share the bulk of the carries for the Scarlet Knights at running back with Paul James injured. Goodwin (231 yards, two TDs) has been getting more work in the last couple of weeks. Huggins (208 yards, TD) has been more valuable as a short-yardage back and has therefore seen fewer touches. Neither has been much of a factor in the passing game
A trio of receivers have all spent time as Nova's favored targets this season. Leonte Carroo (16 receptions, 297 yards, seven TDs) has been a real scoring threat but he had just two catches for six yards against Louisville. Brandon Coleman (20 receptions, 286 yards, two TDs) has been the more consistent option and Tyler Kroft (18 receptions, 286 yards, three TDs) is a solid pass-catching tight end.
The defensive strength from a year ago has not been there for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are letting up 390.8 yards per game to opponents, ranking seventh in the AAC in scoring defense (27.0 ppg).
Linebacker Steve Longa has made plays all over the field for Rutgers, leading the team in tackles (61), with 6.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery to his credit.
While UCF and Louisville have laid claim to the upper echelon of the conference these two teams are certainly contenders in the next tier. Houston has an offense that could be effective against a weaker Rutgers defense but the Scarlet Knights are too tough at home (3-0) to fall.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rutgers 38, Houston 34
Saturday, October 26, 12 p.m. (et)