Unbeaten No. 21 Houston looks to stay focused against UCF
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) The college football world couldn't help but to take notice last season when then-Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman was able to whip third-string Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones into a championship-winning one.
Now the first-year coach of No. 21 Houston, Herman is again giving people reason to pay attention.
At the halfway point of the season, the Cougars (6-0, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) enter their road matchup at UCF (0-7, 0-3) Saturday a victory shy of just their fourth 7-0 start in school history. Herman said his task now is ensuring that his team understands it's only that - a start.
''We are built that way. The culture around here has been ingrained,'' Herman said. ''We have a bunch of older, senior leaders that understand they only give you your senior year once. They want to make sure they are not remembered as the team that won their first six games, and then X, Y, Z happened, and went to the so-and-so bowl.''
That sense of urgency doesn't come out of nowhere this week given the opponent.
The Knights have yet to register a win this season, but own a 5-1 series lead over the Cougars. That includes five-point wins each of the past two seasons over their former Conference USA and now AAC foe.
''Maybe I've naive to the fact, but I'm not sure that they know what UCF's record is. I hope they don't,'' Herman said of his team. ''I hope they know that this a team that is two years removed from winning the Fiesta Bowl last I checked.''
True as that is, the Knights are still very much struggling after being hit with a rash of every season injuries.
Quarterback Justin Holman played in his second game back from a broken right finger last week, but it's done little to help UCF improve an offense that is ranked last in the FBS in total offense. UCF coach George O'Leary said it's not just on him.
''When you really analyze it, he's played better but I don't think his surrounding cast has helped him a lot right now,'' he said. ''It's just work in progress for many of these young kids. That's really where the issues are right now.''
Here are some things to watch for when the Knights host the Cougars on Saturday:
CLOSE GAMES: If history is any indication, Saturday's matchup could be a close one. Five of the six games in the series have been decided by seven or fewer points. Last season Cougars quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was stripped at the goal line on what would have been a go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of a 17-12 Knights' victory.
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: Despite some slim margins of victory, the UCF is 3-0 at home against Houston. The Knights have won those three games by an average of just four points. UCF's lone loss in the six-game series came in Texas in 2006, when the Knights fell 51-31.
BALANCED ATTACK: The Cougars average 279.2 yards per game on the ground and 275.5 yards through the air. Ward is completing 72 percent of his passes, with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He is also the team's leading rusher, averaging 105 yards per game with 14 touchdowns.
BABY STEPS: One of UCF's biggest questions on defense entering the season was how it would respond having to replace its entire secondary from last season. Junior Shaquill Griffin started the season at cornerback, but moved back to free safety early in the year. The move paid off last week when Griffin came up with the Knights' first interception of the season and returned it 81 yards for a touchdown.
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