Houston Chronicle Cougar Blog
The Houston Cougars provide an interesting first opponent for the Ducks. I think most people look at this as a week one blowout game. However, there are a lot of reasons that you shouldn't look at this game that way. Houston is the defending Conference USA champions. They won ten games, and came dangerously close to knocking off South Carolina in the Liberty Bowl. Rest assured, this is not opening up with Portland State or even Stanford. Houston is a legitimate team, and Oregon will need to play well, lest we have an Indiana '04 repeat. That being said, this is a game where if Oregon plays well, they should win by two touchdowns.
The first thing you should know is that this team returns 17 starters from last years' team. While that's a considerable number, it may not be a significant as who's not returning. Kevin Kolb, who was quietly one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, is now playing with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Houston's biggest challenge is to replace him. The way the QB battle has played out has already led one candidate to quit the team, which pits the battle between freshman Case Keenum and sophomore Blake Joseph. Coach Art Briles still hasn't announced a starter, even with the game five days away. Joseph has the stronger arm, but Keenum is considered the better decision maker. There are some thoughts the Keenum has had the better camp, but either way, it has to bode well for the Ducks. Unless Oregon completely shoots themselves in the foot, its going to be very difficult to come into Autzen Stadium for your first collegiate start and lead your team to victory. That being said, the rest of the offense will make the job a bit easier.
If you remember the Houston game two years ago, you know that Houston gets very creative on offense. They'll run a lot of interesting formation, and pass the ball a ton. Even though they lose Vincent Marshall, who had almost 1,000 yards receiving last year, they return two of the best receiver in Conference USA in Donnie Avery (57 rec., 852 yds in '06), and Jason Harvey (41, 671). Both are seniors who should be the leaders of the offense. However, there are some questions about Avery, hyperextended his knee in Friday's scrimmage. Coach Briles says that Avery will be fine, but you have to wonder if it will still be sore next Saturday.
Running back is an interesting story. Anthony "Quick Six" Aldridge returns, and he rushed for 959 yards with a nation leading 10.1 yards per carry. You read that right, he rushed for almost a thousand yards on only 95 carries. He's lightning fast, and if he gets through the line, he's gone. For anyone wondering about our defensive line, Aldridge will allow us to make a quick assessment on that front.
Defensively, the Cougars are not nearly as strong. They run a 3-4 defense. Their defensive line is pretty good, especially Ell Ash, who was all Conference USA, and Phillip Hunt, who had eight sacks. But their linebackers are average at best, and their secondary is where graduation really beat them up, although they have a lot of talent in reserve. Houston's defense is good by C-USA standards, but would be a lower tier Pac-10 defense. That being said, Houston relies on their offensive firepower and unorthodox style to win games, and it will be a great test for the Oregon defense to start the season.