FACTS & STATS: Site: Reliant Stadium (71,500) -- Houston, Texas. Television: ESPN. Home Record: USF 1-4, Houston 2-1. Away Record: USF 1-1, Houston 3-0. Neutral Record: USF 0-0, Houston 0-0. Conference Record: USF 2-1, Houston 3-0. Series Record: USF leads, 2-0.
GAME NOTES: The Houston Tigers will look to continue their strong start in the American Athletic Conference as they bring in the South Florida Bulls for a league skirmish at Reliant Stadium on Thursday.
Whether or not it had been impressive, the Bulls got off to a surprising start in league action with wins in their first two games. It was especially surprising considering the Bulls lost their first four contests overall. However, reality struck last weekend, as powerhouse Louisville posted a 34-3 rout of the Bulls. USF is just 2-5 overall this season, but at 2-1 in league play, still within striking distance of the conference leaders.
One of those conference leaders is Houston. The Cougars have sprinted out to a 3-0 mark in AAC action, which has them tied with UCF for the top spot in the league. Houston hasn't just been beating up on conference rivals, as they are 6-1 overall with the single setback coming by just a single point. Houston will really get a chance to prove its mettle in the weeks to come as the next two games are road games against UCF and Louisville.
This will be just the third all-time meeting between these teams. South Florida has won each of the previous two matchups, including a 32-14 triumph during the last one in 2002.
It is no secret as to what has ailed the Bulls this season. USF has been atrocious on offense, ranking a distant 10th in the AAC in total offense (240.6 ppg), while scoring a paltry 14.3 points per game. Each of those marks is among the 10 worst in the country.
In the loss to Louisville, the Bulls reached new lows as they managed a season-low in points, while amassing just 133 yards of total offense. The Bulls also had just 39 plays, averaging 3.9 yards per snap.
The Bulls especially missed Marcus Shaw. The Bulls' leading rusher (575 yards) has been the only productive player on the offensive side of the ball, but he was kept out of the game with a hamstring issue. The injury still has him listed as questionable for Thursday's game. Having him back would be critical, considering Shaw is only player in the conference averaging more than 100 yards per game.
The quarterback play for USF is not that appealing. Bobby Eveld (38-of-96, 455 yards, two TDs, two INTs), Steven Bench (26-of-64, 392 yards, two TDs, three INTs) and Matt Floyd (9-of-20, 72 yards, two INTs) have all seen time but none has shown much promise.
With no quarterback separating himself, the receivers have put up paltry numbers. Andre Davis (20 receptions, 277 yards, TD) is the only player on the team averaging more than 20 yards per game and one of just two to have double-digit receptions this year.
The loss to Louisville was a big step back for USF on defense. However, each week the Bulls have seen deteriorating results on that side of the ball, as they are just a middle of the pack of the AAC. USF allows 30.7 points and 378.3 yards per game. Still, DeDe Lattimore (60 tackles, five TFL, two sacks, INT) has been one of the more versatile defenders in the league.
The USF defense faces another stiff test against Houston. The Cougars are leading the conference in total offense (496.7 ypg), while scoring an impressive 42 points per game. In a 49-14 win over Rutgers last weekend, the offense was running on all cylinders, rolling up 611 yards.
John O'Korn has been perfect for the Houston offense, completing 63.2 percent of his pass attempts for 1,858 yards and 19 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Against Rutgers, O'Korn had his best effort of the season, throwing for 364 yards and five scores on 24-of-30 passing. Both his yardage and touchdown totals were career-highs. O'Korn has thrown for 300 yards in three of the last four games.
Having skilled players on the edge has been important as well for the Cougars. Deontay Greenberry (58 yards, 842 yards, eight TDs) looks well on his way to getting a spot on one of the all-conference squads, while Daniel Spencer (31 receptions, 543 yards, five TDs) could be a primary option on other rosters. The pair each had more than 100 yards last week, marking the second straight week the Cougars had a pair of 100-yard receivers.
Although not relied on as heavily, the running game for the Cougars has also been effective. Ryan Jackson (477 yards, four TDs) is the leading rusher. Kenneth Farrow (291 yards, three TDs) and Greg Ward (179 yards, two TDs) are each capable as well.
Houston has done a good job of stopping teams from scoring. The Cougars have a deficit of nearly six minutes per game in time of possession and are allowing 439.7 yards per game, Still, they rank fourth in scoring defense (22.3 ppg) among AAC teams. Creating miscues is the key, as the Cougars have forced an league-leading 27 turnovers.
Even though USF has two wins in league play it is not a serious contender for the AAC crown. Houston, on the other hand, most certainly is. With O'Korn, Greenberry and Spencer piling up the yards, and the defense capitalizing on any mistake, the Cougars will once again post a victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 37, South Florida 9
Thursday, October 31, 7 p.m. (et)