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Arizona vs. Houston Q&A: Experts break down the Cougars

<span data-author="5158751">arizona-vs-houston-q-a-experts-break-down-the-cougars </span> Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats lost its 2018 opener to the BYU Cougars, falling 28-23 at home. Now they face a pivotal matchup against the Houston Cougars on the road this Saturday. The game will be played at 11 a.m. (9 a.m. Tucson time), and most prognosticators are predicting a nail-biter.

Before the game, we chatted with Sam and Dustin from the Scott & Holman Pawdcast, a popular UH podcast.

Houston started the season by defeating Rice, but it wasn’t necessarily pretty. What was the reaction at UH after the first game?

Sam: It was a hard game to react to, because at different points of the game the Cougars played well on either side of the ball, but not often both. Specifically, the Cougar offense had a really poor start and the Cougar defense had a shaky second and third quarter. Recency bias being what it is, I’d say Cougar fans’ nerves have calmed about the offense, but not the defense. Specifically, the pass defense was poor versus Rice on Saturday (they allowed nearly 300 yards through the air) and if nothing else it sure looks like the Arizona offense loves going deep.

D’Eriq King is an underrated player who’s very explosive. How do you expect the quarterback to fare against Arizona’s defense?

Dustin: I expect him to have a good game. He was up-and-down as a sophomore (in 2017), but that’s not surprising given that he was hurt in the preseason, then he started out at WR, and only moved to QB later in the year. His career trajectory and production through his sophomore season is almost eerily reminiscent of Greg Ward Jr, which obviously is somebody you want to be compared to. And while it took the offense the better part of two quarters to get going against Rice in the opener, once it got moving it was doing whatever it wanted.

Ed Oliver has been one of the best players in the country ever since he began his college career in 2016. How has his coming to Houston changed that program?

Sam: Before Ed Oliver Houston had a Heisman Trophy winner (Andre Ware), the current NCAA all-time leader in total offense (Case Keenum) and a Lombardi Trophy winner (Wilson Whitley). Still, what Ed Oliver has done for the Houston program will likely eclipse all of those previous accomplishments I just mentioned. I have never seen a freshman, regardless of team, as ready for the collegiate game as an interior linemen and Oliver has only improved since that season. He is the genuine article: a guy with elite physical tools who never takes a play off. He is also a statement to high-level prospects that you can set yourself up for a great pro career without playing at the “brand name” schools. This is especially applicable in Texas where the two big flagship schools have done a poor job developing talent.

Oliver and Khalil Tate will be the two best players on the field Saturday. Who do you think comes out on top in that matchup?

Dustin: I have a ton of respect for Khalil Tate, but I default to picking Ed Oliver to win just about any matchup, based on his track record for the past two seasons, but also in this case specifically because of Arizona’s inexperienced offensive line. Ed was his usual, unstoppable self in the opener, and (knock on wood) barring a significant injury I see that continuing.

Who are some of the leaders of this Houston squad besides Oliver and King?

Sam: The obvious answers are the 3 captains: Braylon Jones, Jerard Carter and Dane Roy, who are all multi-year starters. More broadly, this will be the first year the highly-touted recruits of the class of 2016 are now occupying leadership roles on this team.

Do you think the Cougars have an advantage being used to the Houston humidity, especially with an 11 a.m. kickoff?

Dustin: Definitely. Obviously Kevin Sumlin knows exactly what to expect in terms of the Houston weather, but knowing it’s coming isn’t the same thing as being ready for it. It’s a pretty common refrain to hear opponents complaining about the humidity even after evening games, so Saturday could definitely be tough for Arizona.

What are the expectations in the fanbase about this game?

Sam: Cougar fans will probably be of a lot of different minds on this one. I think most Cougar fans over the age of 25 had this one circled because of the rematch with Kevin Sumlin. There’s a recognition also that Khalil Tate is going to be a very difficult guy to match up with. Although, after Arizona’s opener there are the obvious questions about how this new coaching staff’s scheme will line up with Tate’s skill set. As I mentioned earlier the Cougar pass defense struggled mightily with Rice and this makes me wary of just about any team that’s going to try and throw the ball a little bit. While I know Cougar fans are generally excited about getting a shot at Sumlin and facing Tate, certainly nobody expects this one to easy. I think regardless of who wins it’ll be a one-score margin either way.

Lastly, score prediction?

Dustin: I feel a little bit uncomfortable making any bold proclamations after stating repeatedly that Rice had no chance against UH, and then seeing the Owls holding a 10-point lead in the third quarter, and I do still have some questions about the Cougar secondary. But I think Arizona is a good matchup for the Cougars in that they have a questionable offensive line (which plays into the defense’s biggest strength) and looked questionable throwing the ball deep in the opener (which might prevent them from being able to take advantage of the defense’s biggest weakness), and as previously mentioned I think the Coogs won’t have too much trouble scoring points.

It’s also worth noting that UH is 21-2 in its last 23 games within Houston city limits. So despite Sam’s one-score margin prediction in the previous answer, I have Houston winning 38-27.