It’s a David vs. Goliath of sorts taking place in the Georgia Dome on Thursday, as No. 18 Houston (12-1, 7-1 American) faces No. 9 Florida State (10-2, 6-2 ACC).
Despite Houston’s American Athletic Conference championship, few are giving the Cougars much of a chance against a Florida State team loaded with playmakers and coming off three convincing victories.
But, hey, unlike Cinderella, these Houston underdogs won’t be playing at midnight, as this is a noon kickoff in the ATL.
Here are three reasons to tune in to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl:
1. Dalvin Cook
He wasn't invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy festivities, but Florida State’s sophomore running back was one of the nation’s most explosive players. He finished the regular season with an ACC-leading 1,658 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. He’s rushed for at least 100 yards in the past four games and scored multiple touchdowns in three of those contests. The electrifying back tied for first nationally with four plays from scrimmage of 70-plus yards and led the ACC with 61 plays of 10-plus yards.
Oh, and now he’s healthy.
Houston allowed an American Athletic Conference-low 115 rushing yards per game but gave up an average of 153.3 in its past four games.
2. Florida State’s front seven vs. Greg Ward Jr.
While many might not exactly be up to speed with the Cougars, they possess one of the nation’s best dual-threat quarterbacks. Ward entered bowl season second only to Navy’s Keenan Reynolds in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 1,034 yards and 19 scores. Ward ranks in the top 20 nationally in completion percentage (.681), passing efficiency (153.7), touchdowns responsible for (35) and rushing touchdowns, regardless of position.
Florida State’s front seven has been fun to watch this season. The Noles totaled 30 sacks and allowed fewer than 190 passing yards per game. Florida State wasn’t the best at getting to the quarterback or making plays in the backfield, but Houston hasn’t seen athleticism and speed like this, and the Noles have been pretty good against dual-threat quarterbacks all year.
3. Houston’s aggressive defense
Both of these quarterbacks should have interesting looks coming their way Thursday. Florida State’s Sean Maguire threw only two interceptions this season, but he isn’t exactly a world-beater. Now he’ll have to face a Houston defense that feasted on turnovers this season, thanks to defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s tremendously aggressive style. He isn’t afraid to apply pressure at will.
The Cougars forced 30 turnovers and ranked third nationally with a turnover margin of plus-17.
Houston’s defense still has to wrangle Cook, who has given so many defenses nightmares. Linebackers Elandon Roberts and Steven Taylor, who registered 218 total tackles, including 33 for loss and 15 sacks, will likely key on Cook as much as possible. Selling out for the run isn’t a bad idea for this defense.