Q&A with Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle

I traded Q&As with Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle. Here’s his take on Saturday’s game. Here is a link to his blog and his Twitter account

1. How well has David Piland done filling the shoes of Case Keenum?
Well, first of all, coach Tony Levine joked this offseason that Piland had no shoes to fill because when he last saw Keenum, the NCAA all-time passing leader had taken his shoes with him. All joking aside, Piland has experienced his ups and downs during the first month of the season. He threw 77 passes without an interception, an NCAA single-game record, in a loss to Louisiana Tech and then followed with five interceptions against UCLA. Piland still remains a work-in-progress, although he does rank fourth nationally in total offense.

2. Has Houston found it offensively after a slow start?
In the games the Cougars have struggled it’s either been because running back Charles Sims was not used enough or he was out with an injury. After missing the UCLA game with a hip injury, Sims came off the open date and exploded for a season-high 158 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 35-14 win over Rice. There still continue to be dropped passes by young receivers and dumb penalties on the offensive line, but with Sims and emerging true freshman wide receiver Larry McDuffey the Cougars are beginning to put some things together.

3. Has Houston struggled to adjust to a new staff?
I’m not sure if it’s a new staff as much as a transition season with so many new players following the departure of Keenum and the Cougars’ top four receivers. There has also been talk whether the Cougars should have gone from a 3-4 to 4-3 defense. The coaches insist the move was the right one and have no plans to change. If there has been one adjustment to the coaching staff it’s been Travis Bush, who took over the offensive play calling after the Labor Day firing of offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt.

4. Is Houston’s defensive front as good as advertised?
The defensive line has struggled at times this season while failing to get a consistent pass rush. If there is a unit on defense that has shined it’s linebacker, where Phillip Steward leads the team in tackles and Derrick Mathews is third. Together they have combined for seven sacks.

5. How do you see this game going?
After watching the Cougars lose by 17 at home to Texas State in the season opener against Texas State anything is possible. With that said, I do believe this is a different team from a month ago. If UH limits the turnovers and doesn’t let Brelan Chancellor break off any big returns they should win. My pick: Houston, 38, North Texas 28.