Dana Holgorsen inherits a program looking for an identity. The previous regime stumbled their way to a 15-10 record over two years. That leaves plenty to fix for Holgorsen and his staff, but they’ve already taken steps to show improvement. Houston’s trajectory currently remains unclear. The Cougars have talent on their roster, but there are many questions at multiple positions. They also face a schedule that could take them to new heights, but many are unsure about the team’s ability to beat elite talent. With so many questions surrounding this team, we take a look at five of the most burning questions for the 2019 Houston Cougars.
What should we expect from the new offense?
Former offensive coordinator and current Florida State OC Kendal Briles rejuvenated the offense last season. Houston went from average to elite under Briles, and now runs Holgorsen’s system. One of the biggest things we will see is more combination routes. There were many times last year where it seemed that Briles called for one receiver to run a route while the others jogged a few yards and stopped. Relying on the one-on-one matchups worked last year, but adding combo route will look different.
In terms of production, nothing should change for anyone besides D’Eriq King. Holgorsen’s said he doesn’t want King running as much. After watching what happened when he went down with an injury, I can’t say I blame Holgorsen for feeling that way.
Dana Holgorsen on @UHCougarFB QB @DeriqKing_ : "I'm still trying to get him to understand he's the most valuable guy that we have on this practice field." pic.twitter.com/bmn8y1HbWM— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) August 4, 2019
Outside of that, the offensive line should continue to protect their quarterback well. They’ll also open lanes for Kyle Porter, Patrick Carr, and Mulbah Car in the running game. On the outside, the receivers won’t change a thing. It’s the same offense as last year in terms of personnel, but the execution will look different.
Will the defense improve?
This ultimately decides Houston’s season. Last year, Houston was atrocious defensively even with Ed Oliver on the field. Granted, they did sustain numerous injuries, but the coaching staff didn’t prepare their depth well. New defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen brings a 4-2-5 scheme that should feature more aggressive players. Houston won’t be an elite group, but they’ll be miles ahead of where the were last year. The coaching staff brought in a number of transfers to compete for starting spots, and that competition alone elevates everyone’s game.
D’Eriq King: 2019 Heisman Trophy Winner?
Team success ruined King’s chances to get recognition of any kind last year. He didn’t receive a single Heisman vote last year despite accounting for 50 touchdowns in just 11 games. He also finished second in AAC Player of the Year despite finishing with 14 more touchdowns than McKenzie Milton. Producing another 50 touchdowns this year certainly raises eyebrows across the country, but will it be enough? If Houston wins more than eight game, it should be. If they are inconsistent, King’s talent will be enjoyed by a smaller audience.
Since taking over as the starter, D’Eriq King has rushed for a touchdown in every game except one. He’s a special player capable of making legendary plays pic.twitter.com/kbGoogkP8z— Joe Broback (@joebroback) May 24, 2019
Can the receivers dominate for a second consecutive year?
Expanding on the first question, Houston’s receivers are some of the best in the country. Marquez Stevenson exploded for a 1,000 yard season last year, but others around him also stepped up. Courtney Lark and Keith Corbin both displayed tremendous potential in 2018. Now, they won’t sneak up on anyone.
Stevenson and Bryson Smith will be used in a multitude of ways from jet sweeps to screen passes to regular routes downfield. Corbin is arguably the most athletic in the group with incredible bounce. Lark’s the best route runner on the team, and is a big time deep threat when healthy. Throw in Jeremy Singleton and Terry Mark and the Cougars are stacked once again. They’ll have more chemistry with D’Eriq King this year, and just have to learn the playbook to have another explosive year. Secondaries beware.
Will the Cougars make the College Football Playoff?
Let’s think positively for a minute. If Houston wins out, they should be in serious consideration for the playoff. Wins over Oklahoma and Washington State would be huge, and beating teams like UCF, Memphis, and Cincinnati add to their resume. The question becomes if they’re ready for the spotlight. Last time Houston had playoff aspirations, they choked away a golden opportunity. This year’s team doesn’t appear ready quite yet, but a serious run towards the playoff would be fun to watch.
Is Dana Holgorsen here for the long run?
Houston’s been a stepping stone for many coaches to get a better job. After the Cougars fired Major Applewhite, they needed stability. Enter Holgorsen, who’s roots with Houston are deeper than many realized. Still, fans are wondering if he’s actually here for the long run. We can rest easy for a while, because it looks like he’s content staying here. Throw in the fact that it would be cool to see Dana coach his son Logan as a senior for the Cougars, and you’ve got long term excitement. It seems that this is different.
Holgorsen left a Power 5 job for a Group of 5 job. There are some who think Houston’s a sleeping giant if they can get the right coach, and Holgorsen can be that guy. With talks about Big 12 expansion popping up seemingly every year, the Cougars appear to be headed for a promotion of sorts. That doesn’t happen in just one year. For now, we’ll wait to see how Year 1 goes before drawing any long term conclusions.