Houston and Louisville are not that unfamiliar to each other. Current players might not really have any idea, but the two schools were once conference opponents.
In 2013, the two met for the only time under the American Athletic Conference umbrella -- Houston’s first year in the league and Louisville’s last. Before that, the two teams played in Conference USA until Louisville left for the Big East in 2005.
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino faced Houston twice in C-USA, in 2003 and 2004, when Art Briles coached the Cougars. Those two games ended with Louisville dropping more than 60 points on Houston. In fact, the 66-45 win in 2003 was the first time under Petrino the Cards hit the 60-point mark.
Plenty has changed since then. Briles moved on to Baylor, where he enhanced his reputation as an offensive guru. Petrino left and came back. Louisville joined the ACC and Houston the American when realignment was in full swing.
Now, the two meet again Saturday. It is pretty wild that in each of their last three meetings, they have met under different circumstances.
But what has not changed is the philosophy. Houston has a new coach in Tom Herman, a former offensive coordinator who hopes to bring the same high-flying spread principles to the Cougars. In a 52-24 win over Tennessee Tech last week, Herman became the third coach in school history to lead Houston to 50-plus points in his first game.
Petrino is no slouch on offense, either. Could another shootout be in the offing based on their history alone?
“I remember them having great quarterbacks,” Petrino said. “We knew it was going to be a wild shootout. A lot of fun. They're always a very talented and very fast football team, which they are this year.”
Houston does have another good quarterback in Greg Ward Jr., who had 376 combined passing and rushing yards and three touchdowns in a 52-24 win over Tennessee Tech last week. The last time these teams played, Ward was a receiver and had one catch for 17 yards.
He began last season as a starting receiver. But Ward was moved to quarterback and started the final eight games of the season, including a come-from-behind win against Pittsburgh in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl that is probably still giving Panthers fans the shakes.
“He’s a very dynamic player,” Louisville linebacker Keith Brown said. “He’s very shifty in space. If you don’t contain him, he can get loose on you. We have to have a very good game plan against him and keep him contained and make him throw the ball instead of run the ball.”
Louisville wanted to force Jeremy Johnson to throw last week, and ended up with three interceptions. That was a positive. So was holding Auburn to 327 yards total offense. But what the Cards want to improve on most this week: sacks.
They had zero against the Tigers, a year after ranking No. 9 in the country with 40 total. It was the first time since losing to UCF on Oct. 18, 2013, that Louisville failed to get a sack in a game.
“The linebackers and the defensive line, we have to get more pressure and make him think faster than he would,” Brown said. “If he’s going to run, we have to contain him.”
Louisville has a running quarterback of its own in Lamar Jackson, setting up quite an intriguing matchup between two dual-threat signal-callers. Petrino remembers good quarterbacks during the Houston games of old.
In that respect, it is no different this time around.