Fresno State Football

Hawaii Bowl: Quick look at Houston Cougars vs. Fresno State matchup

Houston quarterback D'Eriq King (4) throws a pass during the Cougars’ 24-14 victory over Navy, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, in Houston. King has started the past three games for Houston, completing 73.0 percent of his passes for 832 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
Houston quarterback D'Eriq King (4) throws a pass during the Cougars’ 24-14 victory over Navy, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, in Houston. King has started the past three games for Houston, completing 73.0 percent of his passes for 832 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Fresno State Bulldogs landed in the Hawaii Bowl, which has its perks.

The locale, of course, is one of them.

But they also will be able to use all 15 of their bowl practices beginning Friday and get the younger players in the program and those taking a redshirt this season some extra work in the offense or defense before starting game prep.

They will have time to game plan, and to recruit leading into the early national letter of intent signing period that is Dec. 20-22.

The players will be able to focus on and get through finals week well before the Dec. 19 departure for Hawaii.

The matchup against Houston, though, that could be a challenge.

The Cougars are 7-4 and 5-3 in the American Athletic Conference, finishing second to Memphis in the West Division.

They have a win at Arizona and at No. 23 South Florida and lost 27-24 to Texas Tech and 42-38 to No. 19 Memphis.

Houston also appears to have fit its pieces together on the offensive side of the ball, starting its third quarterback this season in D’Eriq King.

Here is a first look at the Bulldogs’ bowl opponent …

All power to them …

The Cougars have played two Power 5 opponents this season and were favored in both: at Arizona in their opener and against Texas Tech two weeks later.

They beat Arizona, who will be playing in the Foster Farms Bowl. The loss to Texas Tech snapped a streak of victories over Power 5 teams that included Oklahoma, Florida State, Louisville twice and Pitt.

That doesn’t bode particularly well for the Bulldogs, who have struggled in those games, though they did play much more competitively this season in losses at No. 1 Alabama and the following week at No. 6 Washington.

Fresno State is without a close game much less a win in its past nine games against Power 5 opponents, losing by an average of 33.4 points.

E Carolina-Houston Football
Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver (10) tries to break up the pass by East Carolina quarterback Gardner Minshew (5) during the Cougars’ 52-27 victory on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Houston. Oliver, one of the best defensive linemen in the nation, has 37.5 tackles for loss in 24 career games. Michael Wyke ASSOCIATED PRESS

Inside game

The Bulldogs are second in the Mountain West and fifth in the nation in sacks allowed with nine and first and third in tackles for loss allowed with 40, and their offensive line has crushed some very good defensive ends the past few games.

Houston, though, has its strength inside in tackle Ed Oliver, a 290-pound sophomore who is the Defensive Player of the Year in the American Athletic Conference and won the Outland Trophy on Thursday night as the nation’s best interior lineman on offense or defense.

Fresno State center Aaron Mitchell and guard Netane Muti did a solid job against Washington tackle Vita Vea, who goes 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds.

Vea was in on three tackles when the Bulldogs lost to the Huskies.

But Oliver will require some answers – he has 37.5 tackles for loss in 24 career games and had 4.5 last season against Central Florida and 3.5 against San Diego State last season at the Las Vegas Bowl and against Navy in the Cougars’ final regular-season game.

Extending the red zone

Fresno State scored a touchdown on four if its five red-zone series in the past two games against Boise State, improving its touchdown percentage inside the 20 to 57.5.

The Cougars, though, get much tougher inside the 40, not the 20.

Houston allows 3.1 yards per rush when it is inside its 40-yard line, 4.2 yards per rush everywhere else on the field.

And it allows quarterbacks to complete 51.6 percent of their passes at 4.4 yards per pass attempt when inside its 40 and 65.9 percent at 8 yards per attempt outside it. The passing efficiency ratings are 95.7 and 131.8.

QB quandary

Houston has played three quarterbacks this season and each has passed for 300 or more yards in a game; the Cougars are the only team in the nation to do that.

King, a sophomore, has taken much better care of the football than Kyle Allen or Kyle Postma and since making his first start Nov. 4 against East Carolina has given the Cougars a dynamic dual threat that will test the Bulldogs.

He has completed 73 percent of his passes for 832 yards with four touchdowns and one interception and rushed 29 times for 212 yards and five touchdowns.

King in those three starts has 15 pass plays of 20 or more yards including touchdowns of 61, 62 and 75 yards.

Vulnerable deep?

The Cougars are allowing 268.1 passing yards per game, eighth in the American Athletic Conference and more than any team in the Mountain West.

Yet, they also are second in the conference in passing efficiency defense having allowed 10 touchdowns while picking off 14 passes.

Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion has protected the ball very well; the interception he threw in the fourth quarter of the Mountain West Conference championship game was his fourth in 303 passing attempts.

If the Bulldogs’ quarterback can avoid costly turnovers and the line can keep Oliver at bay, Fresno State could find some plays in the pass game.

It will, however, have to be much sharper than it was in a 17-14 loss to Boise State.

McMaryion averaged 5.1 yards per pass attempt against the Broncos after 9.2 against Boise State in the regular-season finale. In completing 16 of 34 passes (47.1 percent) in round 2, he had a passing efficiency rating of 83.7.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada

Hawaii Bowl

FRESNO STATE VS. HOUSTON

Sunday, Dec. 24: 5:30 p.m. at Aloha Stadium (50,000) in Honolulu

Records: Bulldogs 9-4, Cougars 7-4

TV/radio: ESPN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)

Of note: The Bulldogs are 10-13 in bowls and playing in one for the first time since 2014, when they lost to Rice at the Hawaii Bowl. … Cougars are 11-13 in bowls and playing in one for the fifth straight year. … Houston is second among FBS schools in Texas with 37 wins since the start of 2014. TCU leads the way with 38 wins in that span. … This will be the first meeting between the schools.

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