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Houston offense flies, but defense wins the day in 2016 Spring Game

Houston head coach Tom Herman’s defensive philosophy: “Run as fast as you can and hit someone as violently as you can when you get there.”

The Houston Cougars' offense was the 10th highest scoring in the nation last year, averaging more than 40 points per game.

Is it any wonder that the no-huddle high-powered attack scored 72 points in Saturday's Red and White game? Not really.

But it might surprise some to hear that the defense scored 74 points.

Head coach Tom Herman divided his squad into offense (Red team) and defense (White team) and modified the scoring system. On the final play of the game, the White defeated the Red 74-72.

Herman is no lover of spring games, as he stated afterward, but he found this format to be the most valuable use of his team's final spring workout.

"It was actually the first spring game that I was looking forward to," Herman said. "To do it this way, with the point system and the offensive groups that they've been running with the entire spring and the defensive groups that they've been running with the entire spring, I thought made for a much more productive game and really a much more teachable practice."

Houston HC Tom Herman 2 Chris Wimmer

Isaiah Johnson stole the show

Sophomore wideout Isaish Johnson may have understated the quality of his performance when asked to evaluate it after the game.

"It was OK," he said. "I came out and played good. I still have some things I need to clean up here and there, like conditioning, but it was a good performance, I believe."

Yeah, it was OK. Maybe even good: 15 receptions, 292 yards, 3 touchdowns.

He torched the Cougars' secondary, particularly with double moves. On the last play of the first half, he ran a stop-and-go and caught a sidearm sling from QB Greg Ward between the corner and the safety. He raced down the sideline for a TD.

The duo outdid themselves in the second half. The offense lined up on its own 10-yard line. Ward took the snap, pump faked and launched the ball deep down the center of the field.

Johnson beat the coverage with another double move and streaked past the safeties. The ball spiraled down over his shoulder and dropped neatly into his hands. He turned on the speed and was gone for a 90-yard TD.

In last season's spring game, Herman was vocal about his unhappiness with the production of his backup wide receivers.

This year, Johnson and junior Linell Bonner stepped up their game.

"I believe we've come a long way and fought through so much adversity, it really helped us get to where we are now," Johnson said. "(Herman) tried to push us and motivate us because we had a terrible performance (last year)."

The Cougars couldn't escape the unfortunate byproduct of a full-contact game: injuries. Wide receiver Steven Dunbar ran a crossing route over the middle of the field and took a hit that folded him up at an awkward angle.

His left leg bent back unnaturally and painfully. He lay on the turf for several minutes before he was helped off the field.

"The x-rays were negative, so he didn't break it," Herman said. "It kind of looks like a high ankle sprain at this point."

Herman stressed that he wanted to speak to the medical staff before he would elaborate further on the injury, but a sprain would be the best possible outcome for a collision that looked worse in the moment.

Chance Allen and Ra'Shaad Samples were already sidelined with concussions, so the wide receiving core has a lot of healing to do in the late spring.

The run defense is stout

"It's really hard to run the ball against our defense," Herman said. "I think, if we stay healthy up front, we've got a chance to be pretty good on defense."

He was right. Sophomore running back Blake Hirsch led the team with 17 carries for 58 yards. The aerial attack had plenty of success, but rushers Hirsch and Josh Burrell found very few lanes or open holes.

"The front seven is going to be good, " defensive end Cameron Malveaux said. "We have athletes, man. We have athletes all across the front four that just fly around and hit."

And that doesn't include Houston's biggest recruit, five-star defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who will join the team this summer.

When he arrives, he will quickly be baptized in Herman's philosophy:

"One thing that is firmly ingrained in our culture is just to run and hit. Run as fast as you can and hit someone as violently as you can when you get there. We do that was well as any team I've been around."

Final thoughts

QBs — Greg Ward was the team's leading rusher last season. In the spring game, he left the pocket only to scramble. Whether that represents a desire to guard against injury or a change in workload —€” possibly with the addition of Texas running back transfer Duke Catalon —€” remains to be seen.

Kyle Postma showed a command of the offense and was impressive with his speed, quickness and mobility. He made some errant throws but also nailed several that were starter-quality.

Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen displayed his abilities for Cougars' fans for the first time. He led two series' at the end of the game. The first was shaky but the second ended in a late touchdown for the Red team.

DBs —€” The flipside to the great performance by the passing attack was that the secondary obviously needs work. It will have to replace seniors Trevon Stewart and William Jackson III and is still a work in progress.

"The two corners (Howard Wilson and Jeremy Winchester) are playing good," Herman said. "Obviously not to the level of William Jackson at this point but good enough that I think we can win some games with them."

Duke Catalon —€” The transfer from Texas did not play in the game but Herman was quick to say he was impressed with the running back's performance this spring.