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Houston Cougars Football Thread

Discussion in 'Football: NFL, College, High School' started by Chopped, Aug 29, 2011.

  1. J.R.

    J.R. Contributing Member

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    Up front, the Cougars had the good fortune of starting the same five offensive linemen in all 14 games last season. Only two of them return for 2022 — left tackle Patrick Paul and right guard Tank Jenkins — but there’s talent and experience on hand beyond that pair.

    The left side of the line is in solid shape with Paul and third-year sophomore Cam’Ron Johnson returning. Paul was a first-team All-AAC pick, and Johnson, though not the starter last year, played more snaps at left guard (546) than the player he backed up, Keenan Murphy (305), who has since graduated and joined the coaching staff as a graduate assistant.

    Jenkins was a solid starter at right guard. The two biggest question marks up front coming into spring were at center and right tackle, and both have been addressed.

    Entering spring, Holgorsen considered adding a center from the portal to succeed Kody Russey, a former Louisiana Tech transfer who stabilized the middle for UH but exhausted his eligibility. Jack Freeman, who backed up Russey last year, had such a strong spring that Holgorsen feels confident moving forward with him as the starter.

    Beefing that spot up even further is true freshman center Demetrius Hunter. A national top-500 recruit who originally committed to Oklahoma, Hunter flipped to the Cougars after Lincoln Riley left for USC and impressed enough this spring to earn potential playing time behind Freeman this season.

    At right tackle, the Cougars dipped into the portal to land Tyler Johnson, a former four-star recruit from the 2019 class. Johnson spent three seasons at Texas, starting the 2020 Alamo Bowl for the Longhorns but mostly serving as a backup.

    Houston also added tackle Lance Robinson, a transfer from Middle Tennessee, via the portal. Robinson started 12 games at right tackle last season but can play multiple positions and has three years of eligibility left.

    Key stat to know: The lack of proven, consistent outside receivers kept the Cougars from regularly attacking deep down the sideline in 2021. According to Pro Football Focus, Houston completed only 2-of-7 pass attempts of at least 20 yards downfield toward the sideline.

    While the two such completions are in the middle of the pack nationally (67th in the FBS), the seven deep outside attempts were second-to-last in the AAC (ahead of only run-heavy Navy) and 99th overall in the FBS. Improving their downfield passing, which the Cougars are confident they will, is critical to making the offense more explosive.

    “We weren’t just kicking people’s ass on the outside (last season),” Dawson said. “But we completed more vertical routes this spring than in any of my three years here.”

    Cougars returning production
    Category | Percent returning | Top returner
    Passing yards | 100 | Tune, 3,544
    Rushing yards | 85 | McCaskill, 961
    Receiving yards | 61 | Dell, 1,329
    OL starts | 40 | Jenkins, Paul, 12
    Tackles | 62 | Mutin, 7
    Tackles for loss | 63 | Parish, 12
    Sacks | 70 | D. Jones, 6
    Interceptions | 43 | Hogan, Owens, 2

    Defense

    While Holgorsen’s specialty is offense, Houston proved to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams last year. Under first-year coordinator Doug Belk, the Cougars lived in opposing backfields, racking up 43 sacks (sixth in the FBS), 98 tackles for loss (12th) and finishing 11th in stop rate, preventing scores on 74.1 percent of opposing offensive possessions.

    Houston gradually built up its defensive talent in recent years. Three starters from the 2021 squad were 2022 NFL Draft picks, but don’t expect much dropoff. The Cougars are still deep and talented, and that starts up front.

    Six of the eight players on Houston’s 2021 defensive line two-deep are back. D’Anthony Jones, who led the team with six sacks, had 8.5 tackles for loss and finished second in the AAC in forced fumbles (four) despite playing only 40 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, returns as the hybrid rush defensive end/outside linebacker.

    “I have high expectations for him,” Belk said. “He can change the game at any moment.”

    Jones’ workload should increase this year, but Nadame Tucker, a junior college transfer with a similar build and “a lot of juice,” will pair with Jones at rush end.

    At the other end, both Derek Parish (five sacks, 12 tackles for loss) and Nelson Ceasar, return. Parish is a consistent producer and was second-team All-AAC. Belk believes Ceasar, entering his fourth year in the program, could be the most gifted rusher on the roster.

    Inside, Chidozie Nwankwo returns to man the nose after finishing the 2021 season strong. “If you watch the tape against Auburn and down the stretch against Cincinnati, they struggled to block him,” Belk said. “He’s going to be a force in this league.” Jamykal Neal, who rotated with Nwankwo at nose last year, also returns.

    Replacing Logan Hall, the 33rd overall pick in the draft, at the three-technique defensive tackle is the key up front. Belk likes his options between seniors Atlias Bell (“a freaky athlete,”), Sedrick Williams (“relentless motor”) and Latrell Bankston, who started five games at nose last year.

    “We’ll be a little different at that position,” he said, “but I think the production will be the same from the position based on the body types and athleticism we have.”

    There are also two more junior college transfers who provide intriguing depth options: Zykeius Strong, a 6-6, 265-pound edge rusher who can bend, and Amipeleasi Langi, an athletic, 6-6, 310 interior lineman.

    At linebacker, Belk feels the Cougars are deeper than they have been in years. Starting middle linebacker Donavan Mutin, a second-team all-conference pick, returns as the unquestioned leader on defense. “He’s our Peyton Manning,” Belk said. “He’s one of the most intelligent players I’ve coached.” Trimarcus Cheeks, a transfer from Samford who shined this spring, gives Houston a solid middle linebacker duo.

    At weakside linebacker, Belk is high on senior Malik Robinson and sophomore Mannie Nunnery. Both served as rotation players last year and will assume bigger roles this year.

    One wild card in the group is Oklahoma transfer Jamal Morris. The four-star 2019 recruit is a former safety who can run and hit and is versatile enough to play in the middle or on the weak side. True freshman Treylin Payne, an early enrollee, impressed with his motor and how naturally he shed blocks in spring practice.

    In the secondary, Houston returns a wealth of experience. Both starting safeties, first-team All-AAC pick Gervarrius Owens and Hasaan Hypolite, a team captain, are back. So is Jayce Rogers, who served as the primary nickelback in 2021.

    The two starting corners from last year’s team, All-American Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams, were both drafted, but their successors, Art Green and Alex Hogan, saw plenty of playing time last year and are ready to take the reins.

    Hogan, a former Texas Tech transfer, started only one game but played 551 snaps, only 47 fewer than Jones. Green started three games and played 382 snaps. Belk expects Green to have a breakout season because of how difficult he is to throw the ball over. Hogan can play multiple positions and has good ball skills.

    Belk likes to rotate corners frequently, so expect a lot of faces to see the field here. Redshirt freshman Jalen Emery, a fast, quick-twitch corner, should find himself in the rotation. The Cougars also mined the junior college ranks for some additions. Moses Alexander, the No. 3 junior college corner in the country, is expected to come in and compete immediately. So is Blinn College prospect Justice Ugo, who committed in May. College of the Canyons recruit Abdul-Lateef Audu and three-star true freshman Dorian Friend, a 24-foot long jumper and 10.4-second 100-meter sprinter are also potential options.

    At safety, Thabo Mwaniki, a former Oklahoma State transfer, and Garrison Vaughn provide experience and depth. Redshirt freshman Mark Wilson, who can play corner and safety, will likely see time at the latter. Antonio Brooks, a 2021 junior college transfer who played sparingly last year, “had the best spring out of all of them,” Belk said. “He has balance, body control and tackles well in space.”

    Key stat to know: The Cougars were the best third-down defense in the country last year, allowing only 48 first downs on 187 attempts. The 25.6 percent third-down conversion rate against Houston was the lowest in the FBS since 2018 when Miami (Fla.) held opponents to 25.2 percent.
     
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  2. J.R.

    J.R. Contributing Member

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    Special teams

    The Cougars had the best return threat in the country last year in Paul Hornung Award winner Marcus Jones. His four combined kickoff and punt return touchdowns led the country, and his 100-yard return as time expired against SMU won the Cougars a game.

    Replacing Jones will be difficult, but the options are plentiful.

    Dell, the leading returning receiver, is a potential replacement after serving as the secondary kickoff returner last year. Henry has experience in the role dating back to his Texas Tech days in 2019 and was a part-time kickoff returner last year.

    An intriguing possibility is Rogers, the nickelback. He was an explosive returner both in high school and at Northwest Mississippi Community College, averaging 27.3 yards per return as a freshman and returning a kickoff for a touchdown.

    At placekicker, the Cougars must fill the void left by Dalton Witherspoon, who graduated. Kyle Ramsey, a fourth-year player who has kicked off in the past and was successful on three PAT attempts last year, is a prime candidate. Bubba Baxa, who served as the kickoff specialist last year and will again this year, is an option as well.

    Laine Wilkins, who averaged 41.8 yards per punt last season, returns for his sophomore season.

    Opposing scouting report

    After a breakout 2021 campaign, opponents see the Cougars as a team with only a few question marks and plenty of talent to contend for the conference title again.

    “Clayton Tune has taken the next step as a player in this league,” an opposing assistant told The Athletic. “His confidence level was different last year. He could just take over games. It never felt like that before, but look at the statistics, look at the film … and you could say he’s the best quarterback in the AAC.”

    The talent around Tune is impressive, the assistant said. Paul, the left tackle has the type of elite size and strength that could make him “the next high draft pick” for the Cougars. Dell may be “the best route runner in the Group of 5,” he said. And Trahan is as reliable as they come at tight end.

    The big concern offensively, the assistant said, is whether receivers other than Dell can emerge.

    “I’ll be interested to see who steps up at receiver besides Dell,” he said. “Because if you take Dell out of the game, I don’t know who they go to.”

    The defensive line should be in good shape with Jones, Parish and Nwankwo returning, the coach said, but, “How do they replace Logan Hall in the middle of the defense? That will be interesting to watch.”

    He called Mutin a true team leader who will be a future NFL linebacker and was intrigued by the athleticism and physical traits of Nunnery.

    The area to watch on defense, the assistant said, is how well the Cougars replace their departed cornerback draftees.

    “You’re losing two really good, man-to-man, sudden, twitchy, fast, highly competitive corners,” he said. “That, to me, is the biggest question mark.”

    How the Cougars recruited from 2019 to 2022

    [​IMG]

    Houston is coming off its best recruiting class since Holgorsen arrived, finishing 50th in the 2022 247Sports Composite team rankings and second in the AAC. That finish was fueled in large part by a late flurry of commits just before December signing day that included Golden (a four-star), Hunter (a high three-star) and Alexander, the No. 8 junior college prospect in the country.

    The Cougars’ 2022 recruiting rank was more than 20 spots better than its previous three classes, a result of the team’s 2021 on-field success and the school’s impending Big 12 membership.

    Every class since Holgorsen arrived has included a heavy dose of transfer portal takes, impacting the size and ranking of the signing classes. In the three classes spanning 2019 through 2021, Houston signed 50 high school and junior college prospects while taking 26 transfers. In the 2022 cycle, the Cougars have 20 signees and eight transfers thus far with still more potentially to come.

    In the transfer portal

    Since his arrival at the start of 2019, Holgorsen has made heavy use of the portal to upgrade the roster. It has included some real gems, like Marcus Jones and Russey.

    The 2022 cycle saw the Cougars address several important needs in the portal: offensive line (tackles Johnson and Robinson), receiver, (Brown and Manjack) and running back (Campbell). They also may have found their future Big 12 quarterback in Coley.

    Holgorsen has emphasized pursuing “bounce back” players, high school recruits from the Houston area or Texas who left the area to play Power 5 football elsewhere but decided to return closer to home to finish their careers. Campbell, Manjack and Coley and Morris all fit that description.

    Ultimately, whether the players come from high school, junior college or the portal, Holgorsen’s strategy is cut and dried.

    “Simply, we need Power 5 players,” Holgorsen said. “Get the best players, period.”

    Impact of coaching changes

    Holgorsen made only one change to his full-time coaching staff this offseason, adding former USC running backs coach Mike Jinks.

    Jinks succeeds Marquel Blackwell, who left for Ole Miss, as running backs coach. Jinks has deep Texas ties dating back to his time as a high school coach at Cibolo Steele and also as an assistant at Texas Tech.

    “He’s been on my list a long time,” Holgorsen said. “With his pedigree in the state of Texas and his experience in this offense, he was a really good hire.”

    He already has some familiarity with Campbell, an incoming Houston running back who transferred from USC.

    Houston’s administration bumped up the football staff salary pool seven figures up to $5.5 million, allowing Holgorsen to hire seven new people to his support staff. Three of those are full-timers in recruiting, two are analysts and two will work in the creative department. Before entering the Big 12, they’ll kick the salary pool up another million.

    The Cougars’ support staff is now at a level similar to their future Big 12 counterparts. And the additional salary pool investment allowed Holgorsen to retain Belk, who received overtures from multiple Power 5 programs and even NFL teams this offseason.

    Schedule

    Date Team Site
    Sept. 3 UTSA Away
    Sept. 10 Texas Tech Away
    Sept. 17 Kansas Home
    Sept. 24 Rice Home
    Sept. 30 Tulane Home
    Oct. 7 Memphis Away
    Oct. 22 Navy Away
    Oct. 29 USF Home
    Nov. 5 SMU Away
    Nov. 12 Temple Home
    Nov. 19 East Carolina Away
    Nov. 25 Tulsa Home

    Final assessment

    Losing McCaskill to injury is tough, but there’s enough talent on this team to contend for the AAC title and a New Year’s Six bowl. The schedule isn’t easy, with two tough road games to start, plus trips to Memphis and SMU in conference play.

    But the depth and overall talent on hand, through years of savvy roster construction via redshirting, recruiting and the transfer portal, coupled with a talented staff means this should be a 10-win team at minimum. Houston’s last year in the Group of 5 should be a good one.
     
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  3. J.R.

    J.R. Contributing Member

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  4. DonnyMost

    DonnyMost not wrong

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    Damn we are absolutely shitty with WRs this year
     
  5. Fulgore

    Fulgore Member

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  6. hlmbasketball

    hlmbasketball Member
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    Damn, I must be old as hell! Shitty means good now??
     
  7. dc rock

    dc rock Contributing Member

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  8. Fulgore

    Fulgore Member

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    North Shore would have put up a better fight than Rice.
     
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  9. dc rock

    dc rock Contributing Member

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    Don’t know where to put this. Pretty cool that all three main men’s sports made the conference championship in the same school year. I’m probably jinxing the championship by mentioning it.
     
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  10. Jturbofuel

    Jturbofuel Member

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    This had to be the dumbest defensive game plan I have ever seen in a game. Rice kept putting a safety on Pat Edwards one on one and we just threw deep time after time and they never changed.

    The final tally
    7 catches 318 yds 5 tds
     
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  11. Jturbofuel

    Jturbofuel Member

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    I actually followed the tournament but I didn't expect much because ECU pretty much manhandled us in the 4 games we played vs them this year.
     
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  12. Fulgore

    Fulgore Member

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    I thought Pat would make it in the NFL with his speed.
     
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  13. Jturbofuel

    Jturbofuel Member

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    I did too I seem to remember around draft time they said the concern with him was he had trouble against press coverage.
     
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  14. DonnyMost

    DonnyMost not wrong

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    Patrick and Case were just telepathetically connected, and he totally feasted during those prime Keenum years when CUSA was a trash fire.

    He floated on and off an NFL roster for 3 years which was a real accomplishment.

    He was tiny (short and small hands) and ran a 4.6. You can't really put too much expectations on somebody with those physical limitations.
     
  15. dc rock

    dc rock Contributing Member

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    I wonder how many people thought Keenum would still be in the NFL in 2022? $44MM over his career as a journeyman quarterback. Pretty good.
     
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  16. Jturbofuel

    Jturbofuel Member

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    He had a great college career for someone who started as a walk on (Edwards that is)
     
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  17. Hippieloser

    Hippieloser Contributing Member

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    I did, but I’m a homer moron. Case is a consummate professional and I hope he retires a Cougar
     
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  18. t4rm5la4r

    t4rm5la4r Member

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    With UH joining the Big 12 next year, I have to wonder what could have been had Tom Herman not been so quick to jump at the first shiny thing (UT) that came his way after his successful start at UH.
     
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  19. J.R.

    J.R. Contributing Member

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  20. Roc Paint

    Roc Paint Contributing Member

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    I just sit back and pray the grass is greener for the Cougars
     

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