Potent offenses should rule the day when the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl kicks off at 11 a.m. Friday at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Houston (7-5) employs a spread offense that became much more effective when the Cougars settled on a starting quarterback seven games ago. Pittsburgh (6-6), which won its past two games to become bowl eligible, relies on the NCAA’s 14th-ranked rushing offense.
Greg Ward Jr., a sophomore from Tyler, started at wide receiver the first five games, but has gone 5-2 as the Cougars’ starting quarterback. He has completed nearly 68 percent of his passes, eighth nationally, for 1,736 yards and nine touchdowns.
“We’re a spread team, we’re a finesse team, that’s where we are,” Houston interim head coach David Gibbs said. “It’s going to be a tough challenge for us, and everybody can think I’m blowing smoke, but our kids know we have our got our hands full.”
The Cougars are led by running back Kenneth Farrow from Hurst L.D. Bell. Farrow has rushed for 934 yards with 12 touchdowns, and averages 5.7 yards a carry. Running back Ryan Jackson has rushed for 597 yards.
“They’re a big physical team and we have to use our speed to our advantage,” Farrow said. “We’re going to have to get running around the edge and hopefully open some things up.”
Pitt will pound away with sophomore running back James Conner, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, who rushed for 1,675 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.
“He’s pretty good. Fast, hard runner,” Houston defensive tackle Joey Mbu said of Conner. “We haven’t faced anyone like him. He’s a pretty good running back and this is going to be a great challenge to us to play him and their offensive line.”
Conner’s 24 touchdowns, and 144 points, broke the school’s single-season records set in 1976 by future Dallas Cowboys Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett.
Conner, who was also named a second-team All-American by The Associated Press and has made six other All-America teams, said he simply wanted to improve on a freshman season when he rushed for a team-best 799 yards and eight touchdowns.
“I just wanted to have a successful season. Get faster, get stronger, those types of things,” he said. “I’ve got to give credit to all my teammates and coaches.
“Houston still has a good defense, they’re big up front, their linebackers can tackle and their DBs can hit, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Eric Zarate, 817-390-7760
Houston (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)
11 a.m. Friday, Amon G. Carter Stadium TV: ESPN
Head to head
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