This week the Houston Cougars leave the friendly confines of Reliant Stadium for the City of Brotherly Love. There they'll face the Temple Owls in the first ever American Athletic Conference game. They're playing at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.
So here's a brief look at some things to watch for as the game kicks off.
4. WE'RE NOT IN CONFERENCE USA ANYMORE
UH head coach Tony Levine says to expect a different brand of football in the AAC than what was played in Conference USA. There's way less use of the spread offense and more use of pro-type offenses featuring two back sets and tight ends. The players are bigger and more physical, and the game might not be run at the normal UH pace.
This could play in UH's favor, he thinks, with teams not used to facing a UH-type offense. So while UH has been recruiting bigger and more physical players, it still retains the speed and elusiveness that help spread offenses to thrive. But it's going to take some adjusting from everybody.
"When you talk about it, I don't disagree with you that the defenses are different, but the offenses are different, too," Levine said on Tuesday. "I mentioned this a month ago at media day, where teams traditionally in this conference have been two-back, one tight end, run power, run the football, huddle up, and bring our brand in and a couple of other schools now, as you mentioned, who have either entered the league or have changed philosophies, like what Temple is doing offensively. You're seeing a little bit of that new, but it's completely different from where the last few years at Conference USA it seemed like week in and week out, we're playing a team that puts up extraordinary numbers on offense, doesn't huddle and throws the ball all over the field."
3. OWLS SEEK TO PUNISH
Temple lost 28-6 to Notre Dame last week. But the Owls still managed to churn out 362 yards on offense, most of which were generated by junior QB Connor Reilly, who threw for 228 yards while running for 65 more. Levine calls him a dual threat with an impressive arm. But Matt Ruhle, the first-year head coach of the Owls, wants to emphasize the running game to win the game, and they employ an offensive type the Coogs haven't seen much of.
"They're going to be up-tempo," Levine said. "They really utilize the tight end much more than we do and much more than you usually see a lot of hurry-up, no-huddle teams utilize. Defensively they're aggressive; they certainly will blitz and we expect to see that quite a bit. It starts for them with their defensive line and their linebackers. They'll disguise some things. They're physical and aggressive, but they're going to make you earn every yard you get. You have to do a good job up front on both sides of the football. This game is one where you look at how physical they are and the size of their lines on both sides of the ball. I've talked about it before games among other things in the trenches there, this will be one of them."
2. UH NEEDS TO CUT BACK ON THE PENALTIES
The Cougars were penalized 14 times for 126 yards last week against Southern. An additional 100 yards in positive offensive yardage was also erased by the penalties. Levine was not happy about this last week, and he reiterated on Tuesday that the team has been working on the situation.
"Really, in my mind it was 226 yards we lost due to those 14 penalties," Levine said. "It's something we're going to continue to work on, coach off the video and continue to emphasize. That's something that's important to winning football games. I look to see not only improvement but a vast improvement in that this week."
Smart teams don't commit penalties and Levine wants his team to be smart. The issues last week were partly attributable to the large number of substitutes in the game because of the score, and also because of opening game jitters. It's something that the team should have under control as the season progresses, but if not, the Cougars could have some issues as the competition stiffens.
1. WHO IS THE QB
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David Piland and John O'Korn split time as QB last Friday versus Southern. That was part of Levine's plan, and he announced in advance that he would do that. Both quarterbacks put up decent numbers, and Levine stated that he was happy with the results. But that was last week. He has not announced a plan for tomorrow, though he said last week that Piland was still his man at the position, although the thinking is he will go with some kind of split tomorrow.
Kevin Sumlin tried splitting QB time his first year as UH head coach, with Blake Joseph and Case Keenum vying for the number one spot. Sumlin eventually settled on Keenum and the Cougars took off as Keenum firmly took command of the offense. Will Levine keep switching among his two choices all season? He's not saying, though he doesn't appear to relish the thought.
"I don't know if I'd be comfortable with [playing two quarterbacks] or not," he said. "I'll let you know at the end of the year."
So maybe tomorrow will see the QB issue settled, though it'll probably be satisfying to all involved to see the Cougars get the win, go to 2-0 on the season, and claim the first conference win in AAC history.