Photo via John Glaser, TexasHSFootball.com

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The Las Vegas Bowl is typically one of the more entertaining bowls and this year is no exception as the Houston Cougars (9-3) play the San Diego State Aztecs (10-3) on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.   

The Cougars’ most impressive unit this year was their defense, which shined the brightest on the biggest stages. They held the explosive Louisville Cardinals to just 10 points and Heisman Trophy Winner Lamar Jackson to just 33 rushing yards on 25 attempts in a 36-10 win. The Cougars also played the one of the most prolific offenses in the Oklahoma Sooners and they held the best duo of running backs in the country in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine to a combined 71 rushing yards in a 33-23 victory over the Big 12 champs. 

The Cougars’ defense was led by Steven Taylor (Cedar Hill), who had 72 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, eight sacks and a 74-yard interception returned for a touchdown. They also had spectacular seasons from Ed Oliver (Houston Westfield), who had 60 tackles and 18.5 tackles for loss, Tyus Bowser (John Tyler) who had 10.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks and Howard Wilson (DeSoto) who had 49 tackles and five interceptions.

The Cougars’ defense will be put to the test against San Diego State. The Aztecs are led by one of the top running backs in the country in Donnel Pumphrey, who leads the NCAA in rushing attempts (330) and is second in rushing yards with 2,018 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Rashaad Penny wasn’t too shabby either with nearly 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns to his credit. 

Defensively, the Aztecs are led by senior linebacker Calvin Munson, who had 108 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. They’re also one of the best in taking the ball away as the defense collected 22 interceptions, including seven from Damontae Kazee, who was one of nine Aztecs with an interception this year. 

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (John Tyler) is a versatile dual threat and he will have plenty of weapons to go to in wide receivers Linell Bonner (Spring Dekaney), Steven Dunbar, Chance Allen, and Tyler McCloskey (Memorial) passed for 3,328 yards with a 67.6 completion percentage and 22 touchdowns. Ward will also lean on running back Duke Catalon to get those tough yards when needed.  

This will also be the first game without head coach Tom Herman, who left to Austin to take over the Longhorns’ coaching job. It is one major change, but the administration did their best to make sure that things stayed the same by promoting their offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to be the head coach. 

So while the man responsible for accumulating talent and stacking the Cougars’ roster is gone, the men responsible for utilizing that talent still remains. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando will still be on the sidelines with Applewhite.

Expect the Cougars to be motivated knowing that the coach they’re playing for has their backs and they’ll need it to stop Pumphrey and the Aztecs.

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