News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Tide wary of Houston’s offense
Cougars use 2 quarterbacks in multiple sets

By Josh Cooper · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama has finished the hard part of its schedule. Three straight games against traditionally powerful programs Arkansas, Georgia and Florida State yielded two losses and one win.

Now it’s time to take a break with Houston, right? Wrong, according to Tide safety Rashad Johnson.

“When you take a breather like that, then you end up getting upset by a team that you should beat,” Johnson said. “We are not going to take a breather. We are just going out to play like it’s another Florida State, another Georgia game.”

The Crimson Tide will look to avoid its third straight loss Saturday when it hosts a Cougar team that won the Conference USA championship a year ago. Kickoff for the Alabama homecoming contest is set for 2:07 p.m.

“We’ve played well enough in some ways to win the games, but we’ve also made enough mistakes to be able to lose the games,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “So you can look at the glass half empty or half full. I look at it like the glass is half full.”

Against Houston (2-2), Alabama (3-2) faces a team with a dynamic offense and a two-quarterback system. The Cougars are ranked No. 15 in the country in total offense, piling up 483.5 yards a game.

The Cougars spread the field and use several different formations, which players say is similar to the Texas Tech team that Alabama defeated in the 2006 Cotton Bowl.

“As a defensive back, you kind of look forward to these. You know they’re going to throw it, so that just means, you know, more opportunities to get some interceptions,” Tide cornerback Simeon Castille said. “A lot of different formations, and they definitely got some good wideouts they’re throwing to.”

Donnie Avery sits at the top of Houston’s list of receivers, and Castille likely will monitor him. According to Houston’s media notes, the 5-foot-11, 189-pound Avery runs the 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds. In Houston’s last game, a 37-35 loss to East Carolina, Avery had nine catches for 189 yards.

Against an offense that specializes in the big play, Alabama’s defense will need to buckle down and prevent the long-yardage gains, something it had trouble doing against Florida State last weekend. The Seminoles got 156 of their 348 yards on three plays.

“We have to be on top of our game the whole game, every play,” Castille said, “because they have the speed definitely to break it and go the distance.”

While the Cougars’ offense might be difficult to stop, their defense might give Alabama’s offense what it needs.

The Crimson Tide gained
329 and 349 yards against Florida State and Georgia, respectively. Houston’s passing defense is ranked No. 63 in the country, and its rushing defense is ranked No. 81.

When asked whether Houston would give Alabama a better chance to get back on track, quarterback John Parker Wilson was diplomatic, saying that Houston has “great skill guys on defense.”

But more importantly for Wilson, he recognized that the more Alabama worries about Houston, the less it can concentrate on itself.

“We need to go out there and not worry about them,” Wilson said.

“We are going to worry about us and execute our game plan. We need to get better now.”

Houston (2-2) at Alabama (3-2)

When: Saturday, 2:07 p.m.

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

Line: Alabama by 11.

TV/radio: The game will be broadcast on a pay-per-view basis in Alabama and Texas. Call your local cable company for details on how to receive the broadcast. AM-1400, AM-730, AM-770, FM-93.9 and FM-92.5 will carry radio coverage.

Players to watch: Alabama running back Terry Grant. The Tide’s leading rusher, he had 36 yards against Florida State last weekend, a season low for him. His numbers have declined since he had 173 yards against Vanderbilt in the second game of the season. Houston’s rush defense ranked No. 81 in the country could be exactly what Grant needs.

Looking at Houston Donnie Avery’s bio in the Houston game notes, it appears the school has included a typo. Does he really run the 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds? Avery serves as the Cougars’ big-play threat. He averages 15 yards a catch and leads the Cougars with 29 receptions.

Key matchup: Alabama’s secondary against Avery. One week after giving up a handful of big plays, the Crimson Tide will face a dynamic offense, and Avery is Houston’s best player on that side of the ball. Alabama coach Nick Saban is a second defensive backs coach, so it will be interesting to see how he decides to cover Avery, and if his players will bounce back from last week’s loss to Florida State.

Weather: 91 degrees and partly cloudy.

Last meeting: Alabama 37, Houston 10 on Sept. 11, 1999.

Prediction: Alabama 41, Houston 29.

Josh Cooper,
Daily Sports Writer

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