No. 20 Houston was unranked last week, but after beating previously undefeated SMU on a last-minute kickoff return for a touchdown, the Cougars shot into the AP rankings and secured a signature win.
With their only loss coming to Texas Tech in Week 1, the Cougars are coming into Saturday’s Homecoming Game against the Bulls riding a seven-game win streak.
“Houston is a team coming in with a lot of confidence,” coach Jeff Scott said Tuesday. “They’re a top-20 team, they’ve won seven games in a row. I feel like I say this each week, but I think they will be the best defense we’ve played to this point.
“I think the stats will back that up.”
The Cougars allow an average of 286 total offensive yards per game, good for fourth best in the country, and rank 10th best in the nation in rushing yards allowed and 17th in passing yards allowed.
They also lead the nation in sacks with 34.
Pacing the Cougars in getting to the quarterback is junior defensive lineman Derek Parish with four sacks. Juniors Logan Hall and D’Anthony Jones have 3.5 apiece.
“They’re an outstanding defense, very fast [and] aggressive,” Scott said. “They have two defensive linemen that’ll probably be top NFL Draft picks that have created issues for everybody they’ve played this year.”
Another interesting wrinkle is senior cornerback Marcus Jones who also serves as the team’s kickoff and punt returner. Jones has nine kickoff/punt returns for touchdowns in his career.
Although Scott said kicking a touchback every kickoff would be ideal, he recognizes that can’t always be the case, and the Bulls must have a plan in place for punts as well.
“It’s not like there’s an easy alternative [to kicking to Jones,]” Scott said. “You can have options of trying to pooch the ball and sky-kick the ball, and then you’re giving the ball to them at the [40-yard line] every time. You can squib the ball and then they turn around and pitch it back to him and now its messed up all your timing.
“We’re going to have several plans. We’re going to have to go out and execute those, but you can’t just do one thing the entire game … Punting is the same situation, but they know he’s a dangerous returner so they bring a lot of pressure to try and get you to hurry up and kick it as fast as you can and get the ball in his hands.”
With just four games remaining — two against ranked opponents — Scott believes a great opportunity lies ahead of USF, but it depends on how the team views the challenge.
“I put up our remaining four games [to the team Sunday … and asked,] ‘What do you see when you see this schedule? What do you see,’” Scott said.
“People on the outside, they may see a lot more of the same, a lot more struggle, but what do you see? Because me personally, I see opportunity. I see opportunity for this team to be able to go get some of those big wins that we’ve been building for.’”
The Bulls and Cougars meet at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.