Houston-UCF Preview

BY foxsports • October 20, 2015

Even with its depleted lines, Houston didn't fret too much in its opener to a two-game road stretch.

Considering their next opponent's dreadful record, the No. 21 Cougars could stay worry free for much of Saturday's visit to American Athletic Conference foe Central Florida.

Houston (6-0, 3-0) scored on its first play from scrimmage last weekend against Tulane and never looked back in a 42-7 rout.

Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. ran for three TDs and is tied with LSU running back Leonard Fournette for the FBS lead with 14. The Cougars also yielded a season-low 262 yards while moving one-half game in front of No. 18 Memphis and Navy in the AAC's West Division.

Ward, who also passed for a score, played behind a line missing ill center Colton Freeman, forcing freshman Will Noble into his collegiate debut. Converted defensive lineman Mason Denley made his first career start at left guard and another ex-DL Kameron Eloph saw time as a backup.

Houston has been forced to scramble after season-ending injuries to Ben Dew, Zach Johnson and Josh Thomas. The Cougars are holding walk-on tryouts for offensive and defensive linemen this week to bolster their depth.

"Sometimes I don't even know who is out there playing offensive line. We've gotten to that point," coach Tom Herman joked. "I've never been around a team that's been forced to play so many young guys at that position and still feel like we've got a chance to be pretty decent on offense."

The Cougars shouldn't have too many issues, even with their makeshift lines, this weekend against the Knights (0-7, 0-3), but Herman isn't taking them lightly. Houston is seeking its fourth start of 7-0 or better and won its first 12 contests in 2011.

Herman is seeking the second-best start to a coaching career in program history. John Jenkins won his first eight games in 1990.

"Maybe I'm naive to the fact, but I don't think (my players) know what Central Florida's record is. I hope they don't," the Houston coach said. "This is a team that's two years removed from winning the Fiesta Bowl last I checked. They done an excellent job of recruiting throughout the years, have an excellent staff and excellent head coach.

"I don't know why they're 0-7. That's not for me to figure out. They also went into (Temple) and had a lead against one of the best teams in our conference."

UCF led by two points entering the fourth quarter last week against Temple, then was outscored 16-0 in those 15 minutes in a 30-16 loss. The Knights forced four turnovers but finished with 134 yards, their lowest total in seven years.

Justin Holman went 10-of-31 for 67 yards. The junior has topped 245 yards in two of his other four games.

Holman went 6 of 18 for 101 yards at Houston last October but also tossed a pair of TDs in a 17-12 victory.

In his first game moving back to quarterback from wide receiver, Ward fumbled in the final minute while trying to dive for the go-ahead touchdown and the ball went out of bounds for a touchback.

"It's going to be a tough game. Houston is playing with a lot of confidence now, and they should be," Knights coach George O'Leary said. "I think they're doing well in all phases of the game."

The Cougars are 1-5 in the all-time series and have lost four in a row. They're 0-3 at UCF and took a 19-14 loss to a then-No. 19 team in their most recent visit in November 2013.

Houston also fell 37-32 in Orlando in November 2009 in its only other matchup with the Knights as a ranked team (No. 13).