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Houston Cougars Postseason Position Review: Offensive Line

Inconsistent play hampered the offensive line this year, but there’s hope for next season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 Memphis at Houston Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you’re a fan of the offensive line, 2019 was a tough year for you. Inconsistent play, some drama, and a bunch of new faces headlined the Houston Cougars line this season. We’ll address the struggles this group experienced, but also talk about what the future holds for them.

Season Review

Let’s put it this way, here’s how we started the season:

LT Josh Jones
LG Keenan Murphy
C Braylon Jones
RG Justin Murphy
RT Jarrid Williams

And here’s how we ended:

LT Patrick Paul
LG Keenan Murphy
C Jack Freeman
RG Max Banes
RT Gio Pancotti

You might think base on that snapshot that Murphy was the only consistent player, but truth it every position saw a rotation. Braylon Jones needed surgery and sat out after the Tulane game to preserve his redshirt. Freeman stepped in and actually played well in his first (almost full) year of college football. Pancotti played every position except center, showing you how little depth there was, but also how versatile he can be. Guys like Dennis Bardwell and Dixie Wooten III also played, but with mixed results.

The bad: Simply put, the guard and center positions were the weakness of the offense. Freeman gave them some consistency, but even he had his struggles. Both D’Eriq King and Clayton Tune found themselves frequently running for their lives this year because they had less than a second to throw. Even the simplest pass rushes were too much at times for this group. It’s tough to run through your progressions when a defensive tackle and/or linebacker are in your face right after you get the snap. Blocking Most of the struggles can be chalked up to inexperience, so at least that’s fixable. Then, there’s the drama.

The redshirt issue didn’t sit well with everyone, and the most outspoken one was Justin Murphy. Murphy felt like players were quitting on the team, and when he ended his season he decided to air his grievances against Dana Holgorsen. With how the season went, it’s a surprise we didn’t see more of this. Whether you agree with Murphy or not, players sitting out wasn’t the biggest issue on the team. Fortunately, the season’s over and we can look forward to 2020.

The good: Josh Jones was arguably the best offensive tackle in all of college football. In his nine games, Jones was the only consistent bright spot for Houston’s line, and it was rare to see his man making plays. Pancotti’s versatility put him in a tough position, but overall he did okay to handle a new role seemingly every week. Freeman would be my pick to win the starting job next year, as he showed that he has a strong base that helps him adjust to a defender blowing him back.

Patrick Paul showed potential with his long arms, and put together a handful of nice plays that the coaching staff can work with for next year. He’ll just need to work on his punches against the pass rush and spend another offseason in the weight room. Word that tackle Jarrid Williams could get a medial redshirt for next year gives this group hope. Before his injury, Williams was having nearly as good of a season as Josh Jones. That’s hope for the future in a group that needs it.

Season Grade: C-

Questions Going Forward

  • Will Jarrid Williams return?
  • Who takes over left tackle?
  • Youth got experience, but will that translate into better play in 2020?

Conclusion

If Jones and Williams didn’t play all year, the season grade would have been a lot worse. We saw potential in a handful of guys, but not enough consistency. Houston’s offense couldn’t get going because the blocking up front was suspect too much. We know they can win the battle in the trenches, but they just didn’t do it enough. Next year is a critical time with all of the experience returning at the skill positions, so it will come down to this group yet again.