Week 1 didn’t end how many predicted it might, but all wasn’t lost for the Houston Cougars offense. It took a little while for things to gel, but the Coogs put together some nice drives against the fourth best team in college football. Today, we’ll take a look at both sides of the ball, starting with the offense (stay tuned for the defense in another article). In no way am I saying I know everything about the Houston Cougars offense (after all, I don’t have the playbook), but these are my observations from Week 1.
Typically, teams look sloppy in their first few drives. Nerves take over and produce bad plays. That couldn’t be more true for the Cougars offense. D’Eriq King’s first pass was a bullet that was overthrown.
Nerves played a big role early on for Houston. King and Stevenson weren't on the same page on the first play pic.twitter.com/AiK0HVkiYY— Joe Broback (@joebroback) September 4, 2019
King didn’t even step through his throw here. He’s so eager to get the ball out that he just throws it as hard as he can, but fades away and it falls incomplete. That was the beginning of a rough start. Three of Houston’s first four drives resulted in three-and-outs with the other one lasting five plays and ending in a punt also. Once they calmed down, they played catch-up all game.
King gains traction
Houston tried to mix it up throughout the first quarter, but it wasn’t pretty. Holgorsen’s desire to have King run less became evident, but it hurt the offense. It’s not either person’s fault though. Holgorsen’s desire to keep King from running is a smart long-term decision, but you could tell King struggled to find balance. He figured it out later in the game, and it will make him a better passer in the future.
He'll still run when he sees an opening, and King didn't take long to figure out when he can run pic.twitter.com/7ncgdTZGnI— Joe Broback (@joebroback) September 4, 2019
King’s rocky start carried on throughout the game, but he found ways to improve. His deep ball was off, which is something we’re not used to seeing. The biggest problem was he rarely had time to set up and throw.
Blocking up the middle gave the Cougars trouble in key moments on Sunday, putting pressure on King faster than expected. The run game didn’t do much to help either until late in the game. Houston continued to look for balance in their offense, but didn’t exploit the Sooners secondary enough.
Houston receivers dominate as expected
It became too little too late when Houston figured out how to torch the Sooners defense. The Cougars receivers gave the Oklahoma secondary fits all night, but Houston didn’t utilize them enough. With the pressure up front, King couldn’t properly throw the deep ball without rushing his passes.
Houston had opportunities deep all night. Lark (bottom) beats his man deep, but King throws long pic.twitter.com/QTOTQ7GMHl— Joe Broback (@joebroback) September 4, 2019
Their best option became the screen game to the outside. Houston figured out how to get the ball to their playmakers on the outside, and they found plenty of room to run. Oklahoma gave little respect to the speed on the perimeter of the Cougars offense, and it hurt them in the second half.
Holgorsen and his staff identified what would work in the second quarter. OU gave UH receivers a ton of space, and the Coogs finally exploited that pic.twitter.com/W25cRcVEZs— Joe Broback (@joebroback) September 4, 2019
Houston’s receivers will be the strength of the offense after King, and they’ve earned more touches. Oklahoma sent pressure up the middle and played soft coverage on the outside, daring King and the offense to beat them on the outside. Finally, they obliged and it made life tough for the Sooners. Even if Oklahoma’s secondary played press, the Cougars receivers were better. This is a group that’s elite and deserves more recognition and chances to produce.
This group did well against the Sooners, so let’s put an end to any thoughts otherwise. The offensive line up the middle needs work, and a starting running back must emerge. However, King and the receivers are due for another big year. The biggest takeaway from this game was that it was a new offense with players and coaches learning how to work with each other. There’s no need to think negatively about this group going forward, because the Houston Cougars offense will light up scoreboards all year. It just wasn’t the best start, that’s all.