It’s weird that we’re heading into Week 9 and Houston’s only played three games. We’ve learned a lot though, and it’s time to hand out some grades for each position. Overall, this team’s playing on a level that we never saw last year. Even in wins, the Cougars struggled to get things going in 2019, but that’s not the case in 2020. So how good is this team? Let’s find out.
Clayton Tune’s looked great so far outside of a handful of mistakes. He’s limited on how far he can sling it, but has still done well throwing deep. The best thing about Tune is that he’s not trying to play hero ball with impossible throws. He’s taking what the defense gives him, but has also shown the ability to fit passes in tight windows. Logan Holgerson has been solid in his limited action when Tune’s been hurt too.
RUNNING BACK: B
I said in the offseason that Kyle Porter was the better fit in Houston’s offense, and that’s proving to be the case. While he’s only averaging 3.9 yards per carry, he’s done damage in the passing game at 13.6 yards per catch. Kelan Walker and Mulbah Car have split the backup duties so far, but it’s becoming clear that Porter’s the guy.
WIDE RECEIVER: A
I could do an article just on this group. The receivers have been outstanding so far, even when they don’t have a singular dominant player in a game. Marquez Stevenson’s off to a great start (266 yards, 3 TD), and bounced back against Navy after a tough outing against BYU. Keith Corbin and Tre’Von Bradley continue to make acrobatic catches, with Nathaniel Dell and Jeremy Singleton showing flashes too. This group is deep, and they’re a big reason why Clayton Tune’s having so much success.
TIGHT END: B+
Christian Trahan’s reminding us why he’s so valuable as a pass catcher, but he’s made another improvement as well. Last year, blocking was far from one of his strengths, but it’s already evident that he addressed that in the offseason. Dekalen Goodson and Shane Creamer have been utilized sparingly, but more as blockers.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE: B
Patrick Paul has the potential to be great, but mental mistakes and consistency are his biggest concerns. He has the right mentality of wanting to drive his man into the ground on every play, but he’s still working on control. Dennis Bardwell is going through similar issues, as penalties for unnecessary roughness continue to stall drives. Reuben Unije has seen time in Paul’s absence, and has proven to be a solid pass protector.
Braylon Jones’ versatility gives other guards a chance to play. Max Banes can be a bully at times, and his strength jumps out on tape. Keenan Murphy has been decent, but at times struggles in pass protection. Overall, this is a much better group than it was last year, but there’s still room for improvement.
Jack Freeman’s snaps have been an issue at times, making Tune work harder than necessary just to get the play going. We mentioned Jones before, and he’s had to step in at center a couple times to steady the offense and give Freeman a break. Any pressure Houston’s faced this year has come from the middle, and that likely won’t stop anytime soon.
DEFENSIVE END: B+
Payton Turner gets an A so far for his play. He’s playing on another level from everyone else, and teams don’t know how to block him. Logan Hall, Derek Parish, David Anenih and newcomer D’Anthony Jones have provided exciting play at the position as well. The defensive line as a whole has been the biggest surprise of the 2020 season, and it doesn’t seem like that will change.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: A
Chidozie Nwankwo is going to be a star, something he already knew when he inherited the number 10. He had a monster game against Navy last week, consistently blowing up the middle of the Midshipmen rushing attack, and he’s going to be a problem for a long time. Olivier Charles-Pierre has also been solid up front, along with Atlias Bell whenever they get in the rotation.
Beat a block and make the tackle at the same time, Donavan Mutin picked up where he left off pic.twitter.com/cIobPAyIok— Joe Broback (@joebroback) October 13, 2020
No surprise, but Donavan Mutin’s leading the team in tackles. He’s building on a year in which he was young and learning in 2019, and turning that into a season in which everyone trying to block him struggles. Grant Stuard’s transition to linebacker appears to be going well, as he looked comfortable in his reads Saturday and made a number of big plays. Jordan Carmouche filled in nicely through the first three games when one of them needs a break.
Damarion Williams is getting tested more, but that has more to do with the success on the other side. As long as Marcus Jones stays healthy, the defensive backs will be just fine. Art Green and Jayce Rogers continue to be decent backups, but Shaun Lewis continues to struggle as we saw against BYU. Overall, solid group, but they’ll face their toughest test this weekend.
NICKEL BACK: A-
JoVanni Stewart took the starting spot and provided some leadership and stability in a group that was desperate for it coming into this year. He’s a big reason for the energy level this defense displays, and can be a playmaker when called upon for the Coogs. We’ve yet to see much of Jordan Moore or anyone else, so depth remains a question.
If someone knows what happened to Deontay Anderson, let me know. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough, but I don’t know if I’ve seen him on the field yet. Luckily, Houston’s finding they have some guys that can play this year. Gervarrius Owens and Hasaan Hypolite have been solid in both coverage and defending the run. Thabo Mwaniki continues to bring a physical style of play that we havne’t seen in a long time, something that will keep him on the field for a long time. Garrison Vaughn would have been another name to add to the list, but he was hurt early in the season.
KICK RETURN: A
Marquez Stevenson’s already took one back for a touchdown and Marcus Jones’ speed is also a factor whenever he gets the ball in his hands.
PUNT RETURN: A-
Jones is electric when he has the ball and space to run, but he also takes some risks. A couple have fumbles and poor decisions have already emerged but some of those poor decisions already turned into big gains. You’ll learn to take the good with the bad here.
Dalton Witherspoon continues to be reliable, and leads the team in points. He’s 13-13 on extra points and 5-6 on field goals, including a long of 53 yards, so there’s not much concern there.
Laine Wilkins has only punted 10 times (knock on wood), and is averaging 40.4 yards per punt. Which is great, except a couple of those punts weren’t so great. So if he can eliminate the bad ones, he’ll compete with Dane Roy for best punter in Houston history.