After a week one loss to BYU at home, the Arizona Wildcats will travel to Houston for a rematch of last season’s 19-16 loss in Tucson. This will be Kevin Sumlin’s first trip back to Houston since he last coached there in 2011.
Kickoff is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tucson time, on September 8 and will air on ABC or ESPN2 depending on your regional coverage.
Here is our first look at the Cougars.
2018 record — 1-0, Week 1 win at Rice (45-27)
Key offensive players — D’Eriq King (QB), Terence Williams (RB), Courtney Lark (WR), Keith Corbin (WR)
Key defensive players — Ed Oliver (DT), Emeke Egbule (LB), Garrett Davis (S), Deontay Anderson (S)
Returning starters — 5 on offense, 5 on defense
The following metrics are courtesy of Bill Connelly of SB Nation and Football Outsiders. You can read more about the rankings and theory behind them here.
- 2017 S&P+ Overall: 36th
- 2017 S&P+ Offense: 37th
- 2017 S&P+ Defense: 49th
- 2018 S&P+ Projection: 59th
- 2018 Projected Record: 8-4
Houston made a splash in the offseason on the offensive side of the ball when they hired Kendal Briles as their offensive coordinator. He will be paired with junior dual-threat quarterback D’Eriq King to try to recreate the up-tempo offense from his days at Baylor.
The Cougars only return 10 starters from the 2017 squad but they landed three big-time transfers in running back Terence Williams, safety Deontay Anderson and cornerback Nick Watkins. Them couple with King and All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver helps replace all the roster turnover.
Two of the key losses to graduation were wide receivers Steven Dunbar and Linell Bonner, who combined for 156 receptions and 1,959 receiving yards. These will be the biggest shoes to fill within the skill positions.
Against Rice, Marquez Stevenson, Keith Corbin and Courtney Lark were the primary targets for King. Stevenson hauled in five receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown. Corbin recorded three catches for 93 yards and Lark found the end zone twice on four receptions for 82 yards.
From a defensive perspective, the name that will likely be mentioned more in the telecast than Khalil Tate is Ed Oliver. There is plenty of well deserved hype surrounding Oliver and if you don’t remember him from last season’s matchup — when he had 11 tackles, a forced fumble and a blocked kick — he’ll quickly remind you.
Senior linebacker Emeke Egbule has appeared in every game for the Cougars over the past three seasons and started in all 12 in 2017. Another key upperclassmen at linebacker is Miami (FL) graduate transfer Darrion Owens. Owens appeared in all 13 games for the Hurricanes last season.
In the secondary, Houston was able to land safety Deontay Anderson and cornerback Nick Watkins as transfers from Ole Miss and Notre Dame, respectively. The senior core of safety Garrett Davis and cornerbacks Alexander Myres, Isaiah Johnson and Joeal Williams makes this group the most experienced — and possibly most talented — on the team.
It seems like this game comes down to Arizona’s offense versus Houston’s defense. The Cougars will present a very difficult test for Arizona’s offense on Saturday. If Khalil Tate can find consistency moving the ball, fans should feel good about the Wildcats’ chances of leaving town with the victory.
Arizona’s defense will also need to apply a better pass rush than they did in Week 1. The Wildcats did not record a single sack against BYU and rarely found themselves hurrying Tanner Mangum.