Houston enters a pivotal season under Dana Holgorsen, one that needs to show this program’s headed in the right direction. After taking over a team that was headed the wrong way, Holgorsen went 7-12 in his first two seasons. Fans are calling for better results, but they needed to give him time. Now is the first year we can actually analyze his performance, and it all starts in the spring. The Cougars lost a couple of big names on both sides of the ball, but there’s a ton of new talent coming in that will fill those slots. Today, we take a look at the five biggest questions for Houston as it enters spring practice.
Who replaces Payton Turner?
Payton Turner was an absolute monster for the Houston Cougars defense last year, but now he’s off to the NFL. Replacing him won’t be easy, but defensive line coach Brian Ealy’s been developing guys to take his spot. Missouri transfer Tre Williams comes in to compete for the spot, but there’s competition for him to face. David Anenih and Derek Parish took the Bandit position last year, with D’Anthony Jones filling in when Turner was out. With Doug Belk running the defense, there’s a chance we see two more traditional defensive ends, opening the door for guys like Williams and Jones to bookend the tackles.
Is Clayton Tune’s job up for grabs?
The short answer is no, but don’t be surprised if Holgorsen pushes him with some competition. Will Sofian Massoud or Maddox Kopp beat him? Most likely not. Tune deserves more credit than he gets in the Houston offense. He’ll need to take a step forward for the Houston offense to become more explosive, but he has all of the necessary tools to do that. The young guys behind him can help him achieve that goal, so having a competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It will help Massoud and Kopp develop too by getting a taste of what it’s like to be QB1, something that will help Houston in the future.
Can the secondary take the next step?
Damarion Williams and Marcus Jones are back, giving the Coogs a great duo on the outside. Holgorsen also brought in Alex Hogan from Texas Tech, and still has Jayce Rogers and Art Green to provide depth. On the back side, Deontay Anderson returns as a super senior. Gervarrius Owens, Garrison Vaughn, Hasaan Hypolite, and Thabo Mwaniki all saw significant time last year too, so it feels like it’s only a matter of time before this group thrives. Finding a starter at safety will be the toughest part, but the depth breeds competition, which in turn should produce a more productive unit.
What should we expect from Dana Holgorsen in Year 3?
A winning record would be a start. Assuming they play a full season, 7-5 should be the floor. Holgorsen now has a majority of his guys on the roster, so this should be his best team yet. I don’t think anyone’s expecting a conference championship, but a winning record is an expectation. With upwards of 16 starters returning this year and many more with significant playing time, experience shouldn’t be a problem. It also won’t be an excuse. This is the first year fans deserve to judge Holgorsen and his staff, and they should be excited about where he’s bringing this team.
Will the offensive line fix their issues?
It became more and more obvious that Josh Jones and Jarrid Williams masked glaring concerns up front over the last few years. Pressure became a big issues for the Houston Cougars offense in that same time, and last year it reached a new level at times. Injuries definitely didn’t help, but there needs to be better play up front for the offense to thrive. Luckily, we’ve seen the potential. Holgorsen brought in Louisiana Tech transfer Kody Russey to compete at center with Jack Freeman, and also signed a handful of talented high school linemen. Patrick Paul has the length and frame to be an All-Conference talent. Max Banes and Dennis Bardwell bring consistency and some versatility. Reuben Unije proved he can handle being thrown into the fire. There’s plenty of talent to go around, and the competition for starting spots will be the most intense on the line. The success of the offense depends on this group.