SPORTS

Arizona prepares for a cat fight

s9617houstonpreviewcourtesyrgb
Courtesy Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

The Wildcats will take on the Houston Cougars this Saturday, Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Arizona Stadium.

Major Applewhite has huge shoes to fill.  Not only is Applewhite a first time head coach, he is succeeding Tom Herman, one of the hottest young stars in the coaching profession. Herman, Kevin Sumlin and Art Briles all parleyed success at the University of Houston into jobs at Power Five schools. 

The standard set by those coaches means that Applewhite won’t have an opportunity to ease into his position. Expectations are high in Houston and for good reason, the Cougs return fifteen starters and are favored to win by the American Athletic Conference. 

Offense

As the best quarterback in his high school class, Kyle Allen was the apple of everyone’s eye.  The polished passer chose Texas A&M, and saw significant playing time as a true freshman. 

Allen was unable to find his niche in College Station and transferred to Houston following his first year. Allen was forced to sit out last season, per NCAA rules, and now appears ready to lead the high octane Cougar offense. 

Allen threw for 3,532 yards two years ago, and should be highly productive in Applewhite’s system. Allen will be working with experienced, talented receivers. 

Linell Bonner was a 2nd Team All-AAC selection last season as he led the team in receptions and yards. Bonner is joined on the perimeter by Steven Dunbar and Keith Corbin.  

Dunbar has a nose for the endzone as evidenced by his five touchdown catches in 2016.  Corbin is a sophomore that started two games last year.  Houston is a pass first outfit, tailback Duke Catalon doesn’t see a lot of action. Catalon started seven games last year and averaged 3.6 yards per carry. 

When a team relies heavily on the pass, the offensive line is crucial. The Cougars have four returning starters and they are prototypical pass protectors.  

Center Will Noble was a 3rd Team All-AAC selection as a freshman. Guard Marcus Oliver has seen it all, he has participated in 33 games during his career. Josh Jones is the youngest player on the Houston front, he is a true sophomore that started 13 games last year.  

Defense

Ed Oliver arrived in Houston as the highest rated recruit in program history. The defensive tackle was billed as the next dominant interior presence. Oliver lived up to the hype, recording five sacks, 66 tackles and 18 tackles for loss as a true freshman. 

The linebacker corps benefited immensely from Oliver’s presence, they could flow to the football unopposed. Matthew Adams led the Cougars in tackles last year and is expected to repeat that feat in 2017.  

Oliver is joined on the second level by D’Juan Hines, Emeke Egbule and Austin Robinson. The Cougars secondary has been an Achilles heel in previous years, there has been a lack of difference makers in the defensive backfield.  

While three starters return, the secondary appears to be a question mark. Jeremy Winchester was a frequent victim of opposing quarterbacks last season, he is the most experienced corner on the roster. Safeties Garrett Davis and Khalil Williams are consistent performers.  

Key Matchups

Ed Oliver vs. Nathan Eldridge-

This matchup will be the feature event of the weekend. Eldridge has a lot on his plate, not only must he contain one of the nation’s best defensive lineman, but makes calls at the line to ensure his line is in the best position possible.

Ed Oliver is an undeniable talent, one who is expected to be a top five pick in next year’s NFL draft should he declare. He has speed, agility, power and technique, essentially every tool you need to be dominant.

Bonner and Dunbar vs. Arizona secondary- 

Linnell Bonner and Steven Dunbar are a good tandem at wide receiver. In fact, the two are statistically the second leading duo nationally coming back this season. 

Arizona struggled against Case Cookus and the Lumberjack wideouts Saturday, Sept. 2 giving up 377 yards to NAU. Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles was a bright spot with two interceptions, but the secondary as a whole will need to improve if it wants to come out on top. 

Arizona run vs. Houston run defense-

Last year Houston was ranked fourth nationally against the run, however, they have several new linebackers and players at key spots with limited experience. 

Arizona ran for 506 yards in its season opening win against NAU. If Arizona can sustain that kind of production it should win every game it plays, however, doing so against the Cougars defense will be far more of a challenge than the Lumberjacks were.

Brandon Dawkins vs. Houston secondary-

Brandon Dawkins didn’t throw much, in fact, he barely threw at all completing seven passes on 13 attempts. He will be expected to do much more than that come Saturday and should have a decent opportunity to do so. 

The secondary for Houston is inexperienced, but so is the Arizona receiving corps to a degree. The key will be if Dawkins can make plays via the pass by buying himself time out of the pocket. 


Follow Nathan Skinner on Twitter



Share this article