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Expectations for Dana Holgorsen in Year 3

Next year is a big year, so hold all of your judgements until then.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I wanted to write this now while things are fresh on my mind and the season is still relevant. It’s been an interesting year on many fronts for the Houston Cougars football team, one full of surprises and frustrations. The Coogs have improved in Dana Holgorsen’s second season, even if it’s not as much as some would have liked, and that leads us to next year. What should we expect from this team in Year 3? We take a look at a few things that need to happen next year.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Houston
Tune was decent this year, but he needs to be good or better next season.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Tune’s improvement

It’s evident that this is Clayton Tune’s team, and that will be the case next year. While it was a shortened season, Tune still improved as a passer. It just wasn’t as much as fans wanted. His yards, completion percentage, touchdown passes, and interceptions all improved, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Holgorsen’s shown that he can elevate the play of his quarterbacks, and he’ll need to continue that trend with Tune next year.

Right now, Tune is a quarterback who will beat teams by taking short to intermediate throws whenever he gets them, complemented with the occasional deep shot. One thing that has to stop is the bad turnovers. At times he makes throws that are poor decisions and typically doomed as soon as he lets go of the ball. Houston has the playmakers to be a dangerous team, but they’ll only go as far as Tune takes them.

Offensive line must get better

Part of Tune’s struggles at times is that he doesn’t have any time to throw. The play up front is better overall than it was in the last couple years, but there are still glaring holes at times. It was tough when COVID and injuries kept certain players out of games, but there were still struggles even when everyone was healthy. Patrick Paul can be an All-Conference talent when healthy, but at times he’s too worried about driving his guy into the ground and talking trash. I don’t mind any of that, but his penalties killed drives early in the season. Jack Freeman was decent when healthy, an should provide stability up front next year. The guard positions leave something to be desired, and the offense can’t be explosive if the middle three aren’t great. It’s safe to say that all five spots are open for competition, and those players play a big part in the offense’s success next year.

Dana’s guys contribute more

One reason I need fans to be patient is that Holgorsen and his staff are still working with a large number of the previous staff’s players. Yes, guys like Payton Turner have developed into great players, but they weren’t recruited by this staff. To get a true evaluation of this staff, we have to wait at least another year. We’ve seen a glimpse of what Holgorsen’s talent can do, but we’ll get a bigger sample size next year.

Defensively, Chidozie Nwakwo was a stud. The freshman didn’t put up the best stats, but he was a nightmare to block and affected more plays than you’ll see on the stat sheet. Thabo Mwaniki and Hasaan Hypolite grew into solid players at safety. JoVanni Stewart brought stability to the Sam position. It’s not enough talent to evaluate this staff’s impact, but we should see more of their guys playing in 2021.

Compete for a conference title

This might be a long shot, but this has to happen either next year or in 2022. Houston didn’t bring Dana here to finish in the middle of the pack. They brought him back to win championships, and that needs to happen soon. Next year would be a surprise, but this team has to take a jump sometime. If guys continue developing like they have, this is a good possibility. I’m not saying they’ll make a championship game appearance, but they need to at least be competitive for one late in the year.