We all know the results, but let’s take a look at the process. Special teams for Houston were actually solid, but the same cannot be said for the coaching staff. The defensive coordinator was fired after the end of the regular season, the offensive coordinator left, and the head coach was fired this week. Before we get too worked up, let’s take a look at the grades for the rest of the Cougars.
Dane Roy was about as consistent of a punter as you could ask for. His 42.1 yard average wasn’t elite, but it was good. Roy didn’t ever have a bad game, so there was never a concern at this position. Dalton Witherspoon, a year after losing the job to Caden Novikoff, didn’t miss an extra point, and only missed two field goals. Both misses came in the Arizona game, but didn’t miss after that.
Punt return/Kick return
The grades have more to do with the lack of opportunities. With the new fair catch rule put into place, Houston utilized it plenty. Marquez Stevenson averaged 22.4 yards per kick return, while Bryson Smith averaged 21. They only had a combined 18 kick returns. Smith led the way in punt returns, averaging 7.8 with Stevenson averaging 7.3.
In case you didn’t know already, Houston fired Major Applewhite after two years with the program. We won’t dive into that, but we will talk about what he did in 2018. Keeping Mark D’Onofrio too long as defensive coordinator ended up costing Applewhite. It wasn’t a great hire to begin with, and the defense cost him his job. His hire of Kendal Briles was phenomenal from a football standpoint, but it was met with criticism because of Briles’ history at Baylor. In the end, he fired D’Onfrio, Briles left for Florida State, and Applewhite was fired by administration.
Strictly from a football standpoint, Kendal Briles made the offense what it was this year. D’Eriq King benefited the most from having Briles run the offense, and the result was a Top 10 offense in the country. Marquez Stevenson, Keith Corbin, and Courtney Lark all exploded as well. The one knock on Briles is that there were a couple game where the offense didn’t execute well and that falls on him. He also couldn’t muster more than 14 points in the bowl game against Army. Oh, and then there’s the whole signing an extension with Houston and then leaving for Florida State.
Is anyone surprised? I’m sure some Cougars fans would give Mark D’Onofrio a lower grade if they could. Houston’s defense was historically bad, and even had the worst passing defense in the country. Injuries up front hurt, but this still would have been a horrendous defense even if everyone was healthy. Poor tackling (and sometime effort) plagued D’Onofrio’s defenses from Day 1, and things never got better from there.
Season Wrap Up
This definitely wasn’t the season anyone predicted, especially with Ed Oliver announcing it was his last. Houston’s offense was a nice surprise, but the defense was disappointing. The Cougars lost both coordinators, and now find themselves without a head coach for the second time in three years. Whoever is hired better come with some excitement, because their predecessor didn’t. Fans should be excited about the new beginning, but also know that it’s time to get back to national relevancy. Stay tuned in the offseason for more Houston and AAC content, and we will see you in the fall!