Preview 2017: Houston Cougars
Previewing and looking ahead at the Houston Cougars season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The Houston Offense
Former Utah quarterback star Brian Johnson has turned into a rising superstar of an offensive coach, and now he gets to handle a Houston offense that has the talent to be even better after averaging 443 yards per game.
First, the blocking has to be better.
The O line returns all five starters from a group that was okay, but not strong enough in pass protection and didn’t blast away for the ground game. It was a young line, though, and now it should be a plus.
Duke Catalon is an elite all-around, and there’s more than enough talent in the rotation to keep everyone fresh and rolling if the line does its job.
Linell Bonner is one of the nation’s most productive returning receivers. Leading touchdown catcher Chance Allen is gone, but almost all of the top producing targets are back. So who’s going to throw to them?
Greg Ward Jr. is gone, but former Texas A&M star recruit Kyle Allen is ready, while Kyle Postma and receiver/quarterback D’Eriq King are in the battle, getting every chance to win the job.
Biggest Key To The Houston Offense
Yeah, the O line has to be stronger. The Cougars couldn’t run consistently well within games, much less week after week. The O didn’t hit the 100-yard rushing mark in four of the final six games and struggled to get much of anything going against anyone but the worst run defenses on the slate.
The pass protection was a massive issue, allowing 37 sacks on the season – partly due to Ward’s mobility buying him time, though – and gave up a whopping 98 tackles for loss. The talent is there at the skill spots, but now they need time to work.
What You Need To Know About The Houston Defense
Mark D’Onofrio helped ramp up the Miami defense, and now he and Clay Jennings are taking over the defensive coordinator gigs with the Cougars. Now he has to keep it all going for a D that finished fourth in the nation against the run and 13th in total defense.
Corner Howard Wilson and heart-and-soul linebacker Steven Taylor are gone, but there’s more than enough talent back to be great, starting up front with All-American DT Ed Oliver – one of the nation’s top interior pass rushers.
Two of the starting four linebackers are gone, but leading tackler Matthew Adams is back. Safety Khalil Williams leads a secondary that has to replace Wilson on one side, and Brandon Wilson on the other, but has more than enough talent to step in at corner and should be loaded at safety.
Biggest Key To The Houston Defense
Always crank up the pass rush. Few teams cranked out the sacks and the pressure like Houston – the entire Cougar defense spent the Louisville game sitting on Lamar Jackson’s head – but when that didn’t come, there were problems.
Of the 39 sacks on the season, just three game in the four losses – three of the losses were the only games the team failed to come up with two sacks. To be fair, not generating a sack against Navy and it’s all-run attack doesn’t really count, but the Cougars didn’t get one against SMU, only got one against Memphis.
Houston Will Be Far Better If …
It doesn’t lose the turnover battle. The Cougars had issues with turnovers throughout the year, but the defense picked up the slack more often than not. Along with not being able to figure out the Navy ground game, the defense couldn’t force any takeaways in the loss – the team went -3.
Houston was a -1 in the loss to SMU, -2 against Memphis, and -4 in the bowl disaster against San Diego State. The team was -10 in the four losses, and +3 in the four wins, finishing a -7 on the season. How did the 2015 team do? It was +21.
Best Houston Offensive Player
WR Linell Bonner, Sr. – The starting quarterback – whoever that turns out to be – will end up being the star, but Bonner will go a long way to making the new guy look great. The 6-0, 202-pound senior led the team with 98 catches for 1,118 yards, but with just three touchdowns and averaging just over 11 yards per grab.
Even though he didn’t do too much deep, he was reception machine, catching 17 passes for 235 yards against Memphis, and with 13 grabs against Tulsa and 12 against UConn. Expect him to be the go-to guy once again.
2. QB Kyle Allen, Jr.
3. RB Duke Catalon, Jr.
4. QB Kyle Postma, Sr.
5. OG Marcus Oliver, Sr.
Best Houston Defensive Player
DT Ed Oliver, Soph. – While he’s not massive at 6-2 and 290 pounds, the NFL would’ve been more than happy to take him after a devastating freshman year. One of the nation’s most productive interior pass rushers, the superstar recruit showed what all the fuss was about, cranking up 66 tackles with five sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss.
Not just great in the backfield, he was terrific at batting down passes and forcing fumbles, too. He won’t see anything less than two blockers on every play this year, or else he’ll be camping out in the backfield.
2. S Garrett Davis, Jr.
3. LB Matthew Adams, Sr.
4. S Khalil Williams, Sr.
5. CB Jeremy Winchester, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Kyle Allen, Jr. – The former five-star super-recruit at Texas A&M ended up at Houston, didn’t make the trip with Tom Herman to Texas, and now has to fight off veteran backup Kyle Postma and D’Eriq King for the starting job.
Allen might have done everything asked of him over the last year, but that hasn’t guaranteed anything. However, if he doesn’t get the starting gig, will he move on to another school?
If the 6-3, 210-pounder can live up to the tremendous upside and potential, all of a sudden, Houston won’t miss Greg Ward. It’s not that Allen was bad with A&M – he simply moved on. Now he – or one of the other quarterback options – needs to take over.
The Houston Season Will Be A Success If …
It wins the American Athletic title. – After whiffing on the division and the conference championships last year, the Cougars have the bar set high to do better, even with a new head coach and a team without several of the key parts. The non-conference slate – at UTSA, at Arizona, Rice, Texas Tech is a relative breeze compared to past seasons – but it’s the American Athletic slate that matters.
It won’t be easy with road games against Temple, Tulsa, and South Florida – three of the league’s toughest teams – but the Navy game is at home, along with the date with …
Key Game To The Houston Season
Oct. 19 vs. Memphis – This might be it for the West title. The regular season against Navy is important – and a revenge game – and the interdivisional showdowns against South Florida and Temple on the road will be interesting, but beating Memphis is the big moment five days after a tough road test against Tulsa. Lose to the Tigers for a second year in a row – this time at home – and the Cougars can all but forget about the conference championship.
2016 Houston Fun Stats
– 4th Down Conversions: Houston 19-of-30 (63%) – Opponents 8-of-19 (42%)
– Onside Kicks: Houston 1-of-4 – Opponents 0-for-8
– Penalties: Opponents 74 for 632 yards – Houston 58 for 554 yards