Saturday, Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Amon Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
Free NCAAF Pick: Army ATS
Best Line Offered: Pinnacle
Recovery is at stake for many of Houston’s most important players. Quarterback, D’Eriq King will miss the game due to injury. King had thrown 36 touchdowns to six interceptions. On defense, Houston will miss two starting defensive ends and a starting safety to injury. Lastly, future superstar defensive tackle Ed Oliver will sit out to prepare for the NFL draft. Houston is an underdog for the second time all season after failing to come close to covering as nine-point underdogs at Memphis on Nov. 23. Houston is 0-2 SU and ATS under coach Major Applewhite in bowls. Army’s Jeff Monken is 2-0 SU and 1-1 ATS.
How They Got Here
Houston started off 7-1 SU and 5-3 ATS, scoring at least 40 points each time. Then the injuries started piling up on defense. It lost and failed to cover three of its following four games. It gave up 45 points to SMU, 59 to Temple, and 51 to Memphis. In each of those three games, Houston’s opponent exceeded its scoring average by double digits. Houston’s offense could not keep up – especially when King went down. In the season finale, Houston lost to Memphis by three touchdowns. After getting rocked by Duke as double-digit underdogs, Army turned its season around. It took Oklahoma to overtime, blew out MAC runner-up Buffalo 42-13, and, most importantly, beat Navy. Army has 10 wins for the second straight year.
Why Houston Can Win/Cover
Houston will lean on its running game. Its offensive line ranks 19th in opportunity rate, meaning that it very frequently does its job and allows its running back to gain at least four years. It’s also one of the best o-lines in short-yardage situations. Running back Patrick Carr is averaging 5.7 YPC and Houston will have to lean on him for production more than it ever has before. The Cougars have scored 40+ points in both games in which he ran for at least 90 yards, winning by an average margin of victory of 23 points.
Why Army Can Win/Cover
Carr won’t see much of the ball. The Black Knights average over 39 minutes in time of possession per game, which ranks first in the category. Army is an effective running team that averages 4.6 YPC with a lot of depth contributing. It boasts six different players who average over four YPC on at least 40 carries. It’s o-line also ranks 48th in opportunity rate and fourth in short-yardage situation. Army is 4-1 ATS after failing to cover its last game.
Common Opponent/Series History
With its starting quarterback and some of its currently injured defenders still healthy, Houston beat Navy 49-36 on Oct. 20. Navy, which runs an option attack like Army, ran for 349 yards on 5.2 YPC, .5 higher than its season average. With D’Eriq King, though, Houston was able to outpace Navy and narrowly cover the spread. Army beat Navy 17-10. The Black Knights started off with an explosive drive and stayed in control of the game, shutting down Navy’s option attack to 3.4 YPC.
Some offenses find it difficult to enter into a rhythm without seeing much time of possession. Army will eat up a lot of clock, but Houston is still in trouble even if that lack of time of possession doesn’t give it additional problems. Houston’s backup quarterback is a woefully inefficient freshman. Clayton Tune barely completed half his passes in mop-up duty against Texas Southern. Substituting for King against Memphis, he went just 18/43. He will struggle to sustain drives even with Army focusing on limiting running back Carr.
The Black Knights have a strong run defense. Army allows 3.8 YPC, which ranks 36th in the category. For example, it held one of the MAC’s best rushing attacks in Buffalo to 3.3 YPC – even though its starting quarterback was healthy.
With Houston’s mounting injuries on defense, it ranks 66th in allowing 4.4 YPC. A defensive line is arguably most important to stopping an opposing option attack and all of its starting defensive linemen will miss this game. Army outmatches Houston in terms of quality in the trenches and positional depth. It will wear out the Cougars’ defense and the inability of Clayton Tune to sustain drives will help Army’s offense even further.