The No. 20 Louisville Cardinals welcome the Houston Cougars to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Saturday in a duel between two teams tied for second in the AAC behind UCF.
Both teams are evenly matched—they tout opportunistic defenses and have passing offenses ranked in the top 20.
Teddy Bridgewater is the national focal point for the 8-1 Cardinals. However, freshman quarterback John O'Korn has quietly led the Cougars to a 7-2 record behind his over 2,300 yards and 23 touchdowns to six interceptions.
Louisville enters Saturday's contest coming off a win over Connecticut last week, while the Cougars were defeated at the hands of then-ranked No. 21 UCF (the only team to defeat the Cardinals this year).
Houston is an underdog by more than two touchdowns per Vegas Insider, but can pull off the major upset by following a simple approach. It is as follows.
Force Teddy Bridgewater to the Air
It sounds crazy—why on Earth would the Cougars want Bridgewater to throw consistently? After all, he has over 2,800 yards, 24 touchdowns and three interceptions so far and is likely on his way to the NFL should he declare.
It makes sense in a way. Louisville's running game has made life easier on Bridgewater all year (not that he necessarily needs it). The Cardinals average over 152 rushing yards per game, which opens up things down the field for Bridgewater.
When Louisville lost to UCF in mid-October, the Cardinals managed just 104 yards on the ground. Bridgewater still threw for over 340 yards and two touchdowns, but it simply was not enough.
If Houston can at least force Louisville into a one-dimensional attack (which is certainly playing with fire), it stands a chance when taking the next point into account.
Houston is best in the nation at creating turnovers.
The Cougars rank No. 1 in the nation with a plus-21 margin in the turnover category. Houston does an excellent job of forcing turnovers and coaxing quarterbacks into mistakes through the air.
As head coach Tony Levine puts it via the team's official Twitter, what the defense lacks in size it makes up for in speed:
Even better, Levine says the team enjoys the challenge of a road contest:
They better. Louisville's offense is not prone to many mistakes and will have the backing of a home crowd. Still, the main key for the Cougars is simply continued sound and opportunistic defense.
Find Consistency on the Ground
Offensively, the Cougars can go a long way in helping themselves by finding room to operate on the ground.
O'Korn has clearly been effective while backed by a ground game that manages over 159 yards per game. His stable of backs face a tough task against a Cardinals defense that allows just 78.3 rushing yards per game.
One more call back to UCF's upset over Louisville from earlier in the season—the Knights rushed for 199 yards and three scores on the ground. While UCF did not win the time of possession battle, the diversity of the offense allowed the Knights to win in a 38-35 shootout.
But that's the key for the Cougars—a balanced offense can and will produce points on what is currently the nation's No. 1 scoring defense (Louisville allows 10.6 points per game).
Forget ranks. The Cardinals average 38.4 points per game. The Cougars? 38.1. A combination of an opportunistic defense and the same effective offense create a potent recipe for an upset.