Volume 9, Issue 2 University of Houston
Cougars ready to take center stage at Liberty Bowl
by Mark Suarez
With New Year’s Day fast approaching, the Cougars would like nothing more than to get the fireworks started a bit early Dec. 29 at the Liberty Bowl.
If head coach Steve Spurrier and his South Carolina Gamecocks have their way, the only thing Houston will be doing is singing the blues after the two square off at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 29 at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
Junior linebacker Trent Allen, however, doesn’t buy into all the hype surrounding Spurrier and his take-no-prisoners offensive reputation.
“To be honest its not that innovative,” Allen said. “He’s going to try and pound you out, then hit a play action pass. It’s stuff we’ve seen all year as a defense; it’s nothing unbelievably ridiculous … what makes him so good is he can get his point across to his players.”
South Carolina (7-5) runs a multiple set offense led by junior signal-caller Blake Mitchell and sophomore running back Mike Davis who has netted 706-rushing yards this season.
Senior linebacker Wade Koehl cautioned, however, to expect the unexpected.
“I do know that they come out with some trick plays every now and then, so we’ve got to be aware,” Koehl said.
UH head coach Art Briles has guided Houston (10-3) to its third bowl appearance in four years. The Cougars have yet to break through in the win column in Briles’ tenure as coach. He said the Gamecocks well-rounded team will present a challenge.
“Offensively, the thing that stands out to me is that they’re very balanced, very unpredictable on down and distance,” Briles said.
“Defensively, (they) play very aggressively, very intelligently, and they’ve got good players on the field.”
The Cougar defense drastically developed throughout Houston’s C-USA championship run holding Southern Miss to three second half points in the championship game, and senior nose tackle Marquay Love said the Gamecocks running attack isn’t all its cracked up to be.
“They got good wide receivers,” Love said. “They do a lot of screens, a lot of passes. But they are really suspect on running. I’m not going to deny that from them; you got to go out and play ball just like everybody else. Once we can get pressure on the quarterback and make them one dimensional we’ll be good.”
If South Carolina can hang its hat on anything, it is that defense has been a constant ingredient to its success. The Gamecocks fell by one point to Florida, 17-16, who will play for the BCS championship this year. They also fell by a touchdown against nationally ranked Auburn and Tennessee.
South Carolina is holding opposing offenses to 186.5 yards passing and forcing 23 fumbles.
Senior running back Jackie Battle has overcome issues with fumbling this year and said he likes how the running game has emerged along side complimentary speed back junior Anthony Alridge, who has rushed for over 800-yards this season after coming on in the second half of the season.
“With the running game coming around, it gives us really good balance,” Battle said. “Like Coach (Briles) has said about South Carolina, they’re hard to defend because they’re balanced, and we have that now.
“We’ve got two really good running backs, we’ve got a bunch of good receivers. “I think we’re a hard offense to defend.”
Senior quarterback Kevin Kolb has been hard to defend this year as well. The Cougars have had a top ten spot in total offense all season among all Division I teams in the nation.
The Cougars started seven offensive and ten defensive seniors this year, and cornerback Willie Gaston said the seniors want to win the game not just for themselves but for coach Briles as well.
“It’s a big game,” Gaston said. “Last game here at UH, I’d like to go out on top. I’d like to go out winning a bowl game.
“Before everything was about winning a championship. Now it’s about winning this bowl game. I think all the seniors will be happy if we get that done and it will be great accomplishment to get it done for coach Briles which he deserves.”
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