Louisville Cardinals vs. Houston Cougars preview

By ArizonaLake
Nov. 17, 2016

The No. 5 Louisville Cardinals (9-1) found themselves on the outside of the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night. After watching a Michigan, Clemson and Washington suffer their first losses to unranked teams over the weekend, the Cardinals thought they had a chance to join the Top 4. Instead, the selection committee left the team with the least amount of football pedigree yearning for more. 

No. 5 Louisville Cardinals (9-1) vs. Houston Cougars (8-2)

TV: ESPN

Kickoff: 8:00 p.m. 

Where: TDECU Stadium, Houston, TX

Well, the Cardinals have an opportunity to impress the entire college football world on Thursday. They already have the front runner for the Heisman Trophy Award. Lamar Jackson enters the game with 27 touchdown passes and six interceptions. He also leads the Cardinals with 19 rushing touchdowns. However, Jackson was held in check during the 44-12 win over Wake Forest last Saturday. 

Lamar Jackson takes off against Wake Forest
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the 32 point victory, the Cardinals had to score 34 fourth quarter points to seal the win. In fact, the Demon Deacons had a 12-0 lead late in the first half. Jackson was held to 145 passing yards and one touchdown last week. Therefore, he will be eager to explode on the national stage. However, it won't be that simple. 

The Houston Cougars (8-2) were the No. 6 team in the country earlier in the season. Remember, this game was expected to be the most impressive match ups of the season. Unfortunately, between coaching rumors and injuries, the Cougars fell short in a pair of games. They lost 46-40 to Navy and got dominated by SMU a couple of weeks later. Now the Cougars are here to play a spoiler role on Thursday night. 

Keep in mind, the Cougars are undefeated at home. They also defeated the Oklahoma Sooners in the season opener. Therefore, the Cougars have a chance to have two Top 10 victories by season's end.

Defensively, they give up 21.3 points per game. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver is second on the team with 54 tackles. His presence up the middle will be a key factor in stopping Louisville's impressive ground attack. There are times, Oliver lives in the opponents' backfield. For example, he leads the Cougars with 15.5 tackles for loss. He will be all over Jackson if the offensive line can't block up front. The Houston defense only gives up 92 rushing yards per game. If they hold the Cardinals to 2.8 yards per rush, the Cardinals will have to unleash the passing game. 

Ed Oliver can't be blocked at times.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

When the two teams faced off last year, the Cougars won 34-31. The Cardinals were held to 70 rushing yards. Meanwhile, Houston dominated with 226 rushing yards in the victory. The chances of that happening again are slight. First of all, Louisville only gives up 102 rushing yards per game this season. Meanwhile, the Cougars produce 168 rushing yards per game. They've had their trouble dominating in the front seven. 

Furthermore, Greg Ward Jr. has a bad shoulder. Therefore, he might be hesitant to run against the vaunted Cardinals' defense. In the last three games, Ward has 15 total rushing yards. However, he has scored three touchdowns in those games. 

The Verdict: Contrary to popular belief, the Houston Cougars are still a very good team. Additionally, they have experience in big games. They will be hyped up about playing the Cardinals and knocking them out of the College Football Playoff picture. It's almost a slap in the face that Houston isn't ranked. But that's what happens when there's a lack of respect for the program. 

With all that said, Louisville is not receiving that much respect either. This is their final chance to impress the voters. Certainly, they have to play Kentucky in the season finale, but that game won't help much. This is the day Jackson cements his Heisman Trophy finalist appearance. 

Louisville 48

Houston 31

Greg Ward Jr. leads Houston into big game vs. Louisville
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports