UH's rush defense enters Atlanta coming off an impressive regular season that has seen them limit opponents to 116 rushing yards per game, 12th in the FBS, on 3.3 yards per carry, 11th in the FBS. In fact, the Cougars have held opposing teams under their season average for rushing yards and yards per carry in 11 of their 13 games this season.
Taking a closer look at their rush defenses against the Power 5 teams they faced does little to expose the Cougars as beneficiaries of a soft schedule. Yes, Houston has only faced two Power 5 teams so far this year and yes, only one of those teams finished with a winning record. Despite this, the Cougars' rush defense held their Power 5 opponents to 105.5 yards per game on 3.1 yards per carry.
UH's most impressive rush defense performance may have come against the Louisville Cardinals when they held a UL team that averaged 159.7 rush yards per game to 70 yards on 26 carries (2.7 yards/carry) in their 34-31 win at Louisville back in September. For some perspective, Florida State allowed UL to earn 99 yards on the ground on 30 carries (3.3 yards/carry) and that was in Tallahassee.
However, it should be acknowledged that Dalvin Cook will be the most accomplished running back that Houston has faced this season. Cook finished the regular season with 1,658 rushing yards, nearly 400 yards more than the next highest rusher who Houston has faced this season, Temple's Jahad Thomas, who finished the season with 1,267 yards on the ground in 14 games.
Cook played a crucial role in helping the Seminoles exceed opposing defenses' rushing yards allowed averages in ten of FSU's twelve games this season. For an even more direct comparison, Cook has single-handedly had more rush yards than the opposing team allowed on average in six of the eleven games in which he has played so far this season.
The Houston players who have addressed the media through the week so far seem well aware of Cook's ability to break big plays on nearly any down. "He's very explosive and he's dangerous in the perimeter," Houston linebacker Steven Taylor remarked when asked about Cook's talent. "He could shake five guys in one play then come back the next series and do it again. We know he's a dangerous player and a dynamic rusher."
With all of this taken into account, the battle between the Houston defense, which has allowed 1,508 rushing yards all season, and Dalvin Cook, who has 1,658 rushing yards this season, could be the deciding factor in Thursday's Peach Bowl.