When we previewed the Houston Cougars last season, (Part 1 and Part 2), the Cougars were coached by fourth year Head Coach Kevin Sumlin and had a senior laden team led by 6th year senior quarterback Case Keenum. Of course, Houston beat UCLA 38-34, amassing over 450 yards of offense in the process, and went on to have a 13-1 record.
In the offseason, Keenum & Co. graduated, and Sumlin moved on to Texas A&M, gutting the coaching staff in the process. Rising star offensive coordinator Kliff Klingsbury left with him, as did defensive coordinator Brian Stewart. As one would expect, Houston has struggled with the losses, losing to Texas St. and Louisiana Tech to start the season. However, all is not lost in Houston. Former offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt resigned after the week one loss to Texas State, and the offense responded by putting up nearly 700 yards against Louisiana Tech.
We'll take a look at the revamped coaching staff and offensive players after the jump.
Tony Levine steps in as Kevin Sumlin's in-house replacement. Levine coached Special Teams under Sumlin and actually coached Houston to the TicketCity Bowl win over Penn St. when Sumlin departed for College Station. It's an interesting choice, considering that Levine does not have a ton of experience, having really only gotten into coaching collegiately around 2000, but he was Assistant Head Coach to Sumlin in 2010.
Jaime Bryant coaches the defense after coaching the linebackers for Houston last season. He previously served as defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt, but like Levine, has only been coaching in the collegiate ranks since 2000.
As noted above, previous offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt resigned, and Travis Bush took over from his previous position at running backs coach. Levine coached Bush when he played at Texas State and graduated in 2000. Bush has been a fast riser ever since, becoming Texas State's offensive coordinator before moving to UTSA where he was offensive coordinator last year. The offensive production jumped from 323 yards to 693 yards with Bush's playcalling,
Scheme wise, Houston will be running a similar Air Raid type offense, but will be transitioning back to a 4-3 defense. In two games, Houston has gained 228 rushing yards split evenly between the two games, and 791 passing yards which included only 211 passing yards against Texas State but 580 against Louisiana Tech. Defensively, Houston has allowed 493 yards split evenly between two games, and 549 yards through the air, with Louisiana Tech accounting for 353 of those.
Houston's Quarterback is dead. Long live Houston's Quarterback! The legacy of Houston's quarterback began under Jack Pardee, when he brought offensive coordinator and Run N Shoot guru John Jenkins into the program. Under Pardee and Jenkins, Andre Ware won the 1989 Heisman before Pardee moved on to the NFL. Jenkins stayed in Houston, becoming the head coach, and David Klingler put up even better numbers than Ware. The fireworks slowed down until Art Briles took over, and Kevin Kolb put up huge numbers before the Sumlin and Keenum era began. Losing the NCAA's all-time passing leader in Keenum is a big loss, but So. Dave Piland (6'3 192 lbs.) should be just fine. He played as a true freshman after Keenum and then back-up Cotton Turner suffered injuries, throwing for roughly 330 ypg including 24 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He redshirted last season, watching Keenum break records in the process. This year, Piland has taken all the snaps, and has 791 passing yards with 5 touchdowns and only 1 interception. Piland is backed up by Sr. Crawford Jones (6'0 198 lbs.) who beat out Fr. Bram Kohlhausen (6'2 205 lbs.) for the job.
Houston had a fairly deep stable of running backs last year, but this year there is no secret who the bell cow will be. Jr. Charles Sims (6'0 213 lbs.) has 142 yards on 34 carries in two games, after rushing for 821 yards last year. Sims had to sit out the 2010 season for academic reasons, but did lead the team in rushing with 698 yards as a true freshman in 2009. He has scored 20 touchdowns in his career, and is also a good receiver, having caught 70 balls in 2009 and 51 last year.
Freshmen running backs Ryan Jackson (5'10 175 lbs.) and Kenneth Farrow (5'11 206 lbs.) have both seen work this year, but Sims has 34 of the 50 carries by running backs this year. Jackson is listed as the primary backup.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Houston's top four wide receivers have graduated from last year's team. However, Houston has been able to plug in receivers and get production easily over the years, and there hasn't been a drop in the numbers this year to indicate anything has changed.
Houston lists So. Mark Roberts (6'3 182 lbs.) and Sr. Chance Blackmon (6'2 188 lbs.) as starters on the outside, and So. Daniel Spencer (5'11 189 lbs.) and Sr. Ronnie Williams (5'11 188 lbs.) starters on the inside. Of that group, only Spencer and Williams have made much of an impact. Spencer leads the team with 13 receptions for 206 yards and a touchdown. Williams has 9 catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. Much of this year's production has come from the reserves.
Jr. Dewayne Peace (5'11 186 lbs.) may be unlisted on the depth chart, but he has 13 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. Peace is a JuCo transfer and former Michigan Wolverine recruit with very good speed. Fellow back-up, Fr. Andrew Rodriguez (5'10 178 lbs.) is listed as Spencer's backup and has 5 catches for 82 yards.
Another weapons is Fr. Deonte Greenberry (6'3 193 lbs.), a true freshman and former UCLA target from Fresno who has 5 catches for 34 yards and a touchdown. He's listed as Robert's back-up but Roberts only has 2 catches for 28 yards on the season.
The defense also has to account for running backs in the passing game against Houston. They use a lot of screen and swing passes to slow down the defense's pass rush. Sims has 12 catches this year.
Houston returns 4 of last year's starting 5 on the offensive line, and they should be solid up front. The line will be led by Sr. RG Jacolby Ashworth (6'3 300 lbs.), who moved inside to make room for So. Rowdy Harper (6'6 285 lbs.) and his good size at left tackle. The other tackle spot will be manned by Jr. Ralph Oragwu (6'3 318 lbs.). Jr. Ty Cloud (6'4 315 lbs.) returns at LG, and the only new starter is Jr. Kevin Forsch (6'3 308 lbs.).
However, the Houston Chronicle has reported that Forsch and Oragwu will miss Saturday's game due to injury. In their place, Jr. DeAnthony Sims (6'3 322 lbs.), who has played in 27 career games, will start in Oragwu's RT spot, and So. Bryce Redman (6'1 285 lbs.), who was used more as a jumbo tight end last season, will start in Forsch's spot. Houston also has additional back-ups in Jr. Josh McNeill (6'5 318 lbs.) and Jr. Emeka Okafor (6'5 318 lbs.). However, the loss of Oragwu and Forsch should not be understated. Oragwu is a talented tackle and Forsch was filling the shoes of departed Chris Thompson.
That concludes Part I of the Houston Cougars preview. Feel free to fire away with any additional comments and be sure to check back in for Part II of the preview which will take a closer look at Houston's defense and special teams.