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C-USA’ s top offense vs. top defense

Published: Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Updated: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 17:11


Associated Press

As if one Texas-sized, high-powered offense wasn't enough for UCF, the Knights will face their second in as many weeks, when No. 13 Houston comes to town Saturday.

Heisman hopeful Case Keenum brings the nation's No. 1 offense to Bright House Networks Stadium for a Conference USA battle that is sure to display its fair share of the aerial game.

The match-up
This game is important for both teams in terms of C-USA standings as the season nears its end. The Knights (5-4 overall, 3-2 in C-USA) are tied for second in the East Division with Southern Miss, Marshall, and UAB, while Houston (8-1, 4-1) is tied with SMU for the lead in the West.

The Cougars bring the nation's No. 1 offense, averaging 577.9 yards a game, led by Keenum and the quick-strike Houston offense. Keenum is 325-of-458 (71 percent) this season, and has thrown for 3,815 yards and 28 touchdowns to just five interceptions. He is also coming off back-to-back 500-yard passing performances.

Despite their success on offense, the Cougars have struggled on the defensive side of the ball, and rank 116th out of 120 teams in total defense, allowing an average of 220.1 yards on the ground and 469.8 yards overall.

Contrary to their counterparts, the Knight's boast C-USA's top defense, and rank No. 1 in sacks (29), total defense (350 yards per game), run defense (85.4 yards per game) and scoring defense (21 points per game).

UCF is 19-10 in homecoming games but is 0-22 all-time against ranked teams. With three games remaining, the Knights need one more win to become bowl eligible for the third time in four years.

The last time they played
The two teams have spilt the all-time series 1-1, with each winning at home. UCF and Houston last met in 2006. The Cougars came out on top 51-31 in a game where both teams recorded 500-plus yards of offense.

The Knights kept it close, trailing 31-24 heading into the fourth quarter, but Houston put up 20 points in the final period to end UCF's hopes of a comeback.

Former Houston quarterback, Kevin Kolb, now a backup in the NFL, threw for 305 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on 22-of-34 passing.

The Knights racked up 248 yards on the ground behind a three-touchdown, 163-yard performance by Kevin Smith.

UCF will win if …
It all starts up front with UCF's front four. Houston has surrendered just 12 sacks this season, but in order for the Knights to have a shot, they will need to put pressure on Keenum and force him into some errant throws.

The Knights should have a decent day offensively, considering how poorly Houston has defended this year, but this game is contingent upon how well  they can keep this powerful Houston offense in check. The Knights can't look to stop the Cougars because they are bound to get yards, but they need to slow them down enough to keep the game in reach.

If the Knight's can take advantage of Houston's defensive inefficiencies and hold the Cougars to around 30 points, UCF will collect its first win against a ranked opponent in school history.

Houston will win if …
If the Cougars continue their trend of picking apart defenses, they will pick up their C-USA leading fifth win. Against a UCF team that has allowed prolific offenses to throw against it, Keenum is sure to have another record day. Last week against Texas, the Knights allowed Colt McCoy to throw for 470 yards in a 35-3 win.

The Cougars certainly haven't won games because of their defense, which is allowing 31 points per game. And they aren't a time of possession team, averaging just more than 28 minutes in games to go along with a gaudy 42.1 points per game.

They score and they score often and will look to do much of the same against the Knights.

Keep an eye out for …
You'll need several pairs of eyes in order to key in on all of Houston's skill players.

1. Wide receiver James Cleveland. Houston has four of the top-10 wide receivers in C-USA in yards per game. At 6-foot-1, 205-pounds, Cleveland has hauled in 74 balls for 853 yards and 11 touchdowns.

2. Speedy kick returner Tyrone Carrier. Carrier has the best kick-off return average in C-USA at 29.1.

3. Linebackers Marcus McGraw (10.6 per game) and C.J. Caveness (9.9 per game), rank in the top four in C-USA in tackles.

The game features two of the nation's fewest penalized team's. Houston is the second-least penalized and UCF is tied for sixth.

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