GREG GAMBLE’S 2008 PIGSKIN PICKS - 33-23 ATS...59%
NFL: 10-11 - NCAA: 13-6 - Teasers: 10-6 - Hotties: 969-0
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HOUSTON COUGARS (-8) @ MARSHALL THUNDERCATS
The Cougars 4-3 record is a blessing as Vegas hasn’t jacked-up the lines on their high-flying offense yet. With a new headmaster in Kevin Sumlin (former Oklahoma offensive coordinator & assistant coach at Texas A&M back when they were good), new schemes implemented by former Texas Tech O-coordinator Dana Holgorsen (left to get out of Mike Leeach’s enlarging shadow) & veteran defensive coordinator John Skladany (10 years as Cyclones D-coordinator before coaching UCF’s kick-azz defense last year), and plenty of young superstars, the Cougars needed some time to find a rhythm. And since their 28-25 loss at Colorado St. on 9/20, the Case Keenum (69%, 23 TD, 6 INT) led Texans have won three straight & averaged over 43 ppg.
Even during the 2nd week of the season, the Cougars proved they could score on anybody with a 56-37 loss at #9 Oklahoma St. Former Head Coach Art Briles (now at Baylor) should be thanked for the plethora of young talent he left behind as Houston can compete with anybody in the country when it comes to playmakers. Sophomore QB Case Keenum was spectacular his freshman campaign, but many feared the offense would take a step back with the departure of new St. Louis Rams fantasy star Donnie Avery & workhouse RB Anthony Alrige (Broncos). Instead, Sumlin & Holgorsen found out they have more options than a white guy with expensive shoes in Thailand.
True freshman RB Bryce Beall broke the hearts of plenty Big 12 schools when he decided to jump right onto the field at Houston and has been everything they expected…and a little more (557 yards, 6.3 avg, 7 TD and 151 yrds receiving). While Keenum is actually 2nd on the team in rushing (164 yrds, 2 TD), Jr. Andre Kohl is a perfect duel threat when Beall needs a break (rush & rec – 262 yrds, 3 TD) and should find a more action tonight with the colder conditions.
As for the passing game, because of his athleticism and sweet hands, Sr. Mark Hafner (6-3, 230) has dominated as a spread-style TE (52 rec. 8 TD) controlling the middle of the field. Perfectly complimenting his possession skills, tiny-tot RS-FR speedsters Patrick Edwards (5-9, 165) & Tyron Carrier (5-7, 150) are a threat to take it to the house every time they touch the pill (87 rec. 9 TD) and have worked themselves into the running game with a few end-arounds and reverses. Throw-in the development of former QB & possibly the most gifted athlete on the squad in 6-2, 210 lb L.J. Castile (15.1 avg, 4 TD), and Holgorsen arguable has more dangerous playmakers than he did back in Lubbock. Especially w/ the extra practice time this week...
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Especially w/ the extra practice time, my guess is a Cougars team ranked 3rd in the nation in total yards will only have some inclement weather to slow their roll. The Thundering Herd defense has been abysmal of late allowing UAB to crank-out 432 yards for their 2nd win of the year (the same team Houston beat by 25) and Cincinnati dropped 33 points in their house w/ a 6-0 Fr QB making his 1st start. Hopefully the Vistor’s scoreboard lights have been changed recently because I have a feeling Case & Co. are gonna put-on a show.
On the flipside, while the Cougars have been susceptible defensively as they’ve struggled adjusted to the new scheme, they have the playmakers and size to eventually turn the corner and should have an easier time tonight after getting back some healthy bodies. Especially with the additional practice time and the luxury of June Jones not coaching on the opposing sideline (SMU scored 38 in Houston’s win last week), I expect the Cougars to have some success against RS-FR QB Mark Cann (last 3 weeks: 49 comp%, 3 TD, 5 INT) and a rushing attack ranked 81st in the nation.
Honestly, the only interesting thing about Marshall’s (3-4) squad are the names of the Darius boys: Leading reciever Darius PASSMORE & rushing leader Darius MARSHALL...throw-in a back-up running back named Chubb Small and my guess is we’ll hear plenty of annoying jokes from the commentators. Besides that, unless the weather totally destroys Houston’s passing game, I expect them to win easily tonight and might even tease them with the Buffalo Bulls tonight…but that’s only because I have a problem!
Final Score: COUGARS 41 THUNDERCATS 23