Week nine was a forgettable one for both Houston and Baylor. With each team picking up a loss, their records sit at 3-5 heading into their matchup in Waco this weekend. Playing at home has been a disaster for the Bears this season, with all five of their losses coming in front of their fans. Between their recent play and home struggles, they look to be in for a close game against the Cougars.
Houston gave the Texas Longhorns all they could handle, and despite losing, they looked to be trending in the right direction after also picking up a win the week prior. Well, all that momentum is now gone after they went on the road to play Kansas State last weekend and got blown out 41-0. The Cougars are 59th in the country in offensive success rate, and yet they only managed 208 total yards of offense against the Wildcats.
Despite their 3-5 record, Houston has possessed one of the better passing games in the country behind quarterback Donovan Smith. He has the Cougars ranked 52nd in EPA on pass plays and 36th in average passing yards per game (266.4). The problem for the Cougars offense is if Smith is shut down or limited, then they have nowhere else to turn.
When Smith can’t move the ball downfield with his arm, Houston struggles on offense due to a disappointing running game. The Cougars' offensive success rate on rush plays ranks 82nd in the country, as their leading running back in terms of yards, Parker Jenkins, has only exceeded 60 rush yards in a game twice this season.
Now, the good news for Houston is that Baylor has been one of the worst defenses in the country this season. Following their 30-18 loss to Iowa State, the Bears are now 105th in defensive EPA and allow an average of 429.4 total yards per game.
Offensively, the Bears follow a similar playstyle to the Cougars, which is the air raid approach. Baylor is 11th in the country in pass-play percentage, but that volume has not produced the results, as they are 99th in offensive success rate on pass plays and have averaged just 21.4 points per game.
In this matchup between two teams near the bottom of the Big 12 standings, the Houston Cougars are listed as (+3) point underdogs, and despite their struggles last week, I think they can keep it close and cover in Waco. Baylor has shown that playing at home has not been an advantage for them this season, and their defense has not proven they can slow a quarterback like Donovan Smith down.
The Bears are 87th in the country in defensive success rate, and opponents are converting on 47% of their third downs. Kansas State showed what can happen if Smith can’t find production through the air, but I don’t think the Cougars quarterback will need to worry about that on Saturday since Baylor is 107th in EPA on pass plays and 81st on rush plays.
Houston has proven they are the better offense in this matchup, and it’s made clear when you see Baylor is 119th in offensive success rate. The Cougars certainly aren’t a lockdown defense, but the Bears haven’t been able to pull away from opponents, and in this matchup between two similar teams, I think that will remain the case.
Houston Cougars (+3)(-105)