Undefeated BYU makes the trip to Houston for a Friday night Cougar fight
The No. 14 BYU Cougars (4-0) have a shot to open a season with five straight victories for the first time since 2008. Getting win No. 5 will not be a simple task, however. UTSA gave BYU all it could handle before falling to the Cougars 27-20 on Saturday. BYU rolled up 472 yards but struggled to finish drives against the Roadrunners. The Cougars also struggled to limit the damage UTSA did through the air, as the Roadrunners threw for 287 yards (most allowed by BYU this season) and two touchdowns.
That could be bad news going up against a pass-happy Houston (1-0, 1-0 AAC) squad. The Cougars from the American Athletic Conference bounced back from a ragged start to run away from Tulane for a 49-31 victory last Thursday. Houston turnovers set up the Green Wave's first three touchdowns. Once the Cougars got the engine running on offense, they ran over Tulane in the second half. Houston ended up outscoring the Green Wave 42-14 over the final three quarters and rolled up 476 total yards despite five turnovers.
This is the third meeting between BYU and Houston. BYU leads the series 2-0, earning victories in 2013 and '14 with Taysom Hill at quarterback.
No. 14 BYU at Houston
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 16 at 9:30 p.m. ET
Spread: BYU – 5.5
When BYU Has the Ball
The Cougars could be getting back some key offensive players on Friday. Starting center James Empey and starting kicker Jake Oldroyd are expected to be back after sitting out against UTSA. Right guard Tristen Hoge, who has missed three games with pneumonia, could also be available to play.
Their presence will undoubtedly take some pressure off quarterback Zach Wilson's shoulders. Wilson will have better protection and the running game should open up more if Empey and Hoge can start and are playing at full strength. That could equal big things for BYU against an average Houston defense.
Wilson threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns against UTSA. Tyler Allgeier had his second career 100-yard game after rushing for 116 yards and a touchdown against the Roadrunners. If they can provide a similar, balanced one-two punch this week, it will keep one powerful Cougars' offense off the field in favor of another.
BYU had a scare when top receiver Gunner Romney briefly left Saturday's contest with an injury. The Cougars can ill afford to lose Romney and his playmaking ability. Romney has piled up 453 receiving yards in four games. He is on track to be BYU's first 1,000-yard receiver since Cody Hoffman in 2012.
When Houston Has the Ball
Passing is the name of the game for the Cougars. Houston has the perfect trigger man for head coach Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid attack in Clayton Tune. He is a quarterback who can definitely test BYU's experienced secondary to the limit for four quarters.
Tune overcame a pair of interceptions to throw for 319 yards and two touchdowns against Tulane. He led the Cougars to touchdowns on four straight possessions to open the second half. Tune posted a 300-yard game and a 400-yard game last season, but his performance against the Green Wave marked the first time in his career where he threw for 300 or more yards in a victory. It is a positive sign for a Houston team looking to bounce back from their worst season in 15 years.
Marquez Stevenson is Tune's top downfield target. Stevenson piled up 118 yards and a touchdown on five catches in the season opener. He tallied 907 yards and nine scores on 52 receptions a year ago. Houston may need more than a running back by committee approach to dial down the pass rush. The Cougars ran for a total of 157 yards in their opener, but Kyle Porter was the leading rusher with just 57 yards.
One thing is guaranteed in this game: the Cougars will win. Mark it down. All jokes aside, BYU is going to face a test against Houston dwarfing what UTSA threw at the Cougars. Houston has an offense that can put points on the board in a hurry. Of course, the Cougars from Texas also gave them up points just as fast last season. Is their defense improved? BYU probably got the wake-up call they needed last Saturday, and with a couple of key injured players back in action, the Cougars from Provo have decent odds of getting in the last scratch in this catfight.
Prediction: BYU 31, Houston 28
Podcast: Week 7 Preview and Predictions
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports, and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.