HOUSTON (AP) — Houston may start freshman quarterback John O’Korn against Rice on Saturday with David Piland’s status uncertain.
Piland, who did not practice during the Cougars’ bye week, sustained a concussion in the first quarter at Temple on Sept. 7. O’Korn came in to lead the Cougars to a 22-13 win.
O’Korn, who played the final three quarters, finished 23 of 31 for 233 yards against Temple and has thrown for 340 yards and three touchdowns while completing just under 74 percent of his passes coming off the bench his first two collegiate games.
“He went in the game when we were losing, and he didn’t play a perfect game … but we came back and he led us to victory,” Houston coach Tony Levine said. “He showed tremendous poise and leadership for a guy who has been here a couple of months, so that’s what I’ve been impressed with.”
Levine said O’Korn, freshman Greg Ward, Jr. and junior Billy Cosh got the majority of snaps at practice during the bye week. No other Houston quarterback has played a down under center in the first two games other than O’Korn and Piland.
Five things to know about Rice-Houston:
COUGARS CAN RUN: Houston has been known as a passing offense, but over the first two games, the Cougars have shown they can run the ball as well. Sophomore running back Ryan Jackson has three straight 100-yard rushing games dating back to the final game of last season. Jackson, who ran for 252 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman, has 229 yards and three scores on the ground this season. Along with Jackson, running backs Kenneth Farrow, who could miss the Rice game with an ankle injury, and Justin Hicks have led the Cougars ground attack, which ranks 10th nationally.
OWLS CAN RUN, TOO: Led by senior running back Charles Ross, the Owls have shown that they are also dangerous on the ground. Ross has 264 yards rushing in the first two games this season, and has rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back contests. Ross, who rushed for a career-best 157 yards last week against Kansas, now has 1,673 yards in his career at Rice. His 132 yards per game average ranks 10th nationally. However, Ross isn’t alone as dual-threat quarterbacks Taylor McHargue and Driphus Jackson have helped the Owls average 249 yards rushing a game, which ranks 26th nationally.
DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT: After ranking near the bottom nationally in a number of defensive categories and allowing 30 or more points in eight games last season, the Cougars have turned it around on defense through the first two contests. Under first year defensive coordinator David Gibbs, the Cougars have allowed 13 points in each of the first two games. Houston has forced seven turnovers — four fumbles and three interceptions — in the first two games, while only fumbling twice.
OWLS WIN WITH ‘D’: After surrendering 52 points and 486 total yards to Texas A&M in the first week, the Rice defense held Kansas to just 11 first downs and 270 total yards in their 23-14 win last week. The Owls picked off two passes against the Jayhawks, including one that was returned 52 yards by Michael Kutzler in the first quarter. Rice was able to limit the Jayhawks’ running game to less than 3 yards a carry, while getting into the backfield with nine tackles for losses, including three sacks. Dating back to last season, the Owls have won their last five when holding the opposition under 20 points.
DIFFERENT FEEL TO THE RIVALRY: This will be the 40th meeting in the crosstown rivalry between Houston and Rice. Houston leads the all-time series between the two schools that are less than 10 miles apart, 28-11, including wins in six of the last eight games. This will be the first year since 2003 that the two teams will meet not as members of the same conference. This is Houston’s first year in the American Athletic Conference, while Rice remained in Conference USA. With Houston’s move to the American, the future of the rivalry is in question. Houston and Rice last did not meet from 1995-98 following the breakup of the Southwest Conference.
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