Connecticut Huskies (2-2 SU, 0-3-1 ATS) vs. Houston Cougars (4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS)
College Football Week 5
Date/Time: Thursday, September 29. 2016 at 8PM EST
Where: TDECU Stadium, Houston, Texas
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CONN +27.5/HOU -27.5
Over/Under Total: 51
The Connecticut Huskies come to TDECU Stadium to face the 6th-ranked Houston Cougars in Thursday night action. Houston put a beating on Texas State on Saturday, 64-3, and they now turn their attention to the only team that beat them last seasonóthe Connecticut Huskies. Last season, Houstonís 20-17 loss to the Huskies was their only setback and theyíll be eager to not have a repeat of that performance. This year, Houston star Greg Ward, Jr, will be in the game after missing this start last season with an injury. Connecticut lost on Saturday to Syracuse 31-24 and have failed to cover a spread this season. Still, they werenít looking very good before beating Houston last season so weíll see what happens.
Houston didnít hold back against a Texas State team that was out of their element against the Cougars. The offense was tremendous, with Greg Ward, Jr. having another good game and being taken out after just a series in the second half. Still, he managed to put together a good game, getting a big assist from DíEriq King. On Saturday, King became the first Houston player to throw a TD pass, catch a TD, and return a kickoff for a TD. Running back Duke Catalon ran for 70 yards and a score. The Houston offense gained 564 yards against their overmatched opponents.
Making the Cougarsí offensive prowess resonate more is the fact that Houston was able to make this all translate against Oklahoma with their big week one win. Granted, the Sooners have turned out to not be quite as formidable as many of us anticipated. But the things Houston is doing against the lesser likes they face, theyíve shown they can do at a higher level. That goes for the defense, as well, with Houston holding the Sooners to 23 points in Norman. When this defense faces a top back, they usually hold that player to nominal production. This defense makes plays and look for them to be honing in hard on Connecticut this week after last seasonís result.
For the purposes of this game, it might almost be good in a way that Connecticut beat the Cougars last season. Otherwise, this would be a good candidate for a game where Houston could be deflated mentally. Connecticut doesnít command a lot of respect. And Houston is coming off yet another quick Saturday-to-Thursday turnaround game, after facing the same turnaround a few weeks ago. Thatís a bit unusual to face that so early in the season. With some more-difficult games coming up, this is a spot where Houston could be a bit off from their peak form. But against a team that prevented them from going unbeaten last season, that doesnít seem likely in this spot.
Connecticut can be a scrappy group. They had a tough loss on Saturday at home against Syracuse. The Huskies twice tied the game, but Syracuse was able to escape with the one-score win. QB Bryant Shirreffs was a little better with 264 yards through the air. With only two aerial scores, however, he hasnít been able to make this offense take flight. They rely a lot on the run-game, led by Arkeel Newsome, who ran in two scores on Saturday and is rounding into shape just in time for this upset bid. Shirreffs has not been able to get the ball vertical, but WR Noel Thomas is a handful, as he showed on Saturday with 14 receptions. Itís just that the offense can get sluggish, where drives just sort of die an unspectacular death. Even though Connecticut relied a lot on Greg Ward, Jr. not being in the game last season, they also got big performances from Newsome and Thomas and hope for more of the same on Thursday.
Itís just that itís hard to be overly-optimistic about Connecticutís defense heading into this game with the high-powered Cougars, especially on the heels of a rough outing against Syracuse. Orange quarterback Eric Dungey threw for over 400 yards, with Amba Etta-Tawo going off for 270 yards receiving against the ramshackle Connecticut pass-defense. Then again, the defense was appreciably better in the first three weeks, but after allowing a full offensive free-for-all at home against Syracuse, whatís in store this week against the Houston Cougars in a faraway road game?
We still need to remind ourselves that a lot of these negative factors for Connecticut were also in place last season, with the Huskies still able to overcome it to seal the upset win. But for a Conn team that is facing a season where not a lot of good things are bound to happen, this is really their only chance to make an impact. They come into Houston knowing they can beat this team. Sometimes, there are things that arenít apparent on paper that can impact a game. Is there some quirky little something or other about this matchup that can throw a normal analysis into a quandary? Was last seasonís result all about Ward, Jr. not being in there?
The only thing giving Connecticut hope is their result from last season and the possibility that they just match up well with Houston for some unidentifiable reason. Otherwise, itís a bleak-looking matchup for the Huskies in what looks like a really tough road spot against a revenge-minded superior team that is in full-flight. Houston is a handful on both sides of the ball and any sleepiness or complacency that Connecticut could bank on is likely not going to materialize. Still, there is enough reason to believe that Houston will fall just short of utterly smashing this Connecticut team, who I see covering the big number.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Iím betting on the Connecticut Huskies plus 27.5 points.
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