Cougars from the Pac-12 and AAC tangle in NRG Stadium in prime time on Friday
If you enjoy seeing point-a-minute shootouts, watching Washington State and Houston clash on Friday night could be college football nirvana. This intersectional battle of Cougars promises to give the NRG Stadium scoreboard a workout for 60 minutes.
No. 20 Washington State (2-0) hits the road for the first time this season after averaging 58.5 points and 606.0 yards in victories over New Mexico State and Northern Colorado. Senior quarterback Anthony Gordon has racked up 884 yards and nine touchdowns through the air in his first two starts. Gordon leads the Pac-12 in both categories.
Houston (1-1) bounced back from a season-opening loss to Oklahoma with a 37-17 win over Prairie View A&M. The Cougars sported a leaky defense against the Sooners but showed some improvement against the Panthers in Week 2. After giving up 686 yards in the 49-31 loss to Oklahoma, Houston held Prairie View A&M to 318 yards, including just 70 yards on the ground.
Washington State leads the all-time series 2-1. The most recent game in the series occurred in the 1988 Aloha Bowl when Houston fell 24-22.
Washington State vs. Houston
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 13 at 9:15 p.m. ET
Where: NRG Stadium (Houston)
Spread: Washington State -8.5
When Washington State Has the Ball
It feels like Mike Leach has built a quarterback assembly line in Pullman. As soon as one starter graduates, another steps into his place and continues throwing the ball all over the place and piling up yards and points at an astonishing rate.
Anthony Gordon earned the starting job in fall camp in an unexpected development. He barely played in his first four years in Pullman and totaled just 17 yards on 3-of-5 passing a year ago. In two starts this season, however, Gordon has run the Air Raid with the poise of a four-year starter. Given how often Jalen Hurts torched Houston two weeks ago, that's a worrisome sign for the Cougars from the Lone Star state.
Gordon isn't just relying on just a couple of playmakers to move the chains, either. Ten different receivers caught a pass against New Mexico State. Nine receivers had at least one reception against Northern Colorado. Dezmon Patmon led the way with 103 yards and a touchdown on seven catches against the Aggies. A pair of receivers stepped up with 100-yard games against the Bears. Easop Winston Jr. had 113 yards and two touchdowns on six catches, while Brandon Arconado totaled 127 yards and a touchdown on eight catches.
Max Borghi does enough in the running game to keep the offense from being completely one-dimensional. Borghi tallied 128 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries against New Mexico State and is averaging 95 all-purpose yards per game.
When Houston Has the Ball
Everything starts and ends with D'Eriq King on offense. King is a threat to make plays on the ground or in the air as a dual-threat quarterback.
The senior threw for 139 yards and a touchdown to help Houston score on its first six drives against Prairie View A&M. A week earlier, King racked up 270 yards of total offense against Oklahoma. Putting up big numbers against Washington State should not be a problem given what he has done over the course of his career.
King ranks in the career top 10 in multiple offensive categories at Houston. He has 47 career passing touchdowns, 4,568 passing yards, 340 completions, and 25 rushing touchdowns.
Kyle Porter presents another cause for concern for Washington State. Porter, a junior, enjoyed a breakout game in the backfield against Prairie View A&M with a career-best 120 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. If he can deflect some pressure away from King in the backfield, it could really open up things for Dana Holgorsen's offense.
Holgorsen played for Leach and then coached under him at Texas Tech. Has the student become the master? That's the question Houston hopes to answer in a satisfying way on Friday. Washington State looked impressive against really bad teams in the first two weeks. How will the Cougars handle a step up in competition? Houston is mediocre on defense, but the Cougars have enough juice on offense to keep pace with Washington State. Houston always seems to find a way to pick off at least one Power 5 team every season.
Prediction: Houston 38, Washington State 35
— 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.