HOUSTON (AP) -- The Houston Cougars are off to a 4-0 start for the second time in the last three years.
They still have their high-powered offense, but this year they also boast an improved defense. The Cougars have not allowed an opponent to score more than 28 points this season. Last year, they allowed 30 or more points in eight of their 12 games.
Coming off their second bye week of the season, the Cougars (4-0, 1-0 American Athletic) hope to continue to play solid defense when they host Memphis (1-3, 0-1) on Saturday.
First-year defensive coordinator David Gibbs has led the change on defense. The Cougars are allowing 81 yards fewer a game than they did last season and lead the nation in turnover differential at plus-11 after picking off eight passes, recovering six fumbles and giving up the ball themselves only three times.
Houston coach Tony Levine has been impressed.
“Through four games we’ve only turned the ball over three times, defensively and special teams we’ve gotten 14 turnovers,” Levine said. “When you look at the number one correlation to winning and losing games, it’s turnovers.”
Five things to watch during the game:
TIGERS DEFENSE HAS BITE: The Memphis defense enters the game allowing just under 320 yards per game, which ranks 16th nationally and has held opponents under 300 yards in three straight games. The Tigers are allowing 104.3 yards rushing a game and 19 points per game. The defense is led by defensive lineman Martin Ifedi, who has 5 ½ sacks and nine tackles for losses, and Bobby McCain, who has two interceptions.
FARROW RETURNS: Houston running back Kenneth Farrow is expected to return Saturday after missing the last two games with an ankle injury. With Farrow out, Ryan Jackson has filled in and leads the Cougars with 398 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Jackson and Farrow, who is second in rushing for Houston with 179 yards on 29 carries, have stepped in after Charles Sims transferred to West Virginia.
FRESHMEN MAKING NAMES: Memphis redshirt freshman quarterback Paxton Lynch has completed nearly 61 percent of his passes for 773 yards and two touchdowns in the first four games. Running back Marquis Warford has 28 carries for 251 yards. His nine yards a carry rank fourth in the nation. Warford is second in rushing for the Tigers behind senior Brandon Hayes, who has 307 yards rushing. But Warford is a threat in the backfield having runs of 63 and 47 yards against Arkansas State. He finished with 173 yards rushing against Arkansas State.
NEW CONFERENCE, NEW VENUE: These former Conference USA foes will meet for the first time as American Athletic Conference teams. The game will mark the Tigers’ first road game in the American and will come exactly 17 years since their first road game in C-USA, which was a 37-20 win for the Cougars. Houston and Memphis will play at BBVA Compass Stadium, which is home to Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo. Houston, whose campus stadium is being built, has already played a home game at Reliant Stadium, home to the NFL’s Houston Texans, and will play a home game at Rice Stadium.
PILAND ENDS CAREER: Houston junior quarterback David Piland was forced to end his playing career this week after sustaining multiple concussions. Piland played in two games, completing 21 of 40 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown. Piland finishes his career with nearly 5,800 yards passing and 41 touchdowns and holds the NCAA single-game record for most attempts in a game without an interception with 77 against Louisiana Tech in 2012.