When you look at the Houston Cougars' offensive statistics from 2015, it's pretty apparent that the best aspect of the year was how consistent and balanced they were. Houston, for the most part, was able to do what they willed in both the run and pass.
This is primarily due to the exceptional play of quarterback Greg Ward Jr. Ward had shown plenty of talent in his first two years at UH, but his junior year was a major step-up. His pure athleticism made him elusive and dominant, and his technical progression as a QB over 2015 only spurred his play.
Ward embraced his role as the versatile catalyst of the Cougar offense, and it obviously showed through his 2828 passing yards, 1108 rushing yards and 38 combined touchdowns. This was the key part of Houston's offensive balance, which saw them average 248.4 passing yards a game and 235.8 rushing yards per game.
That 12.8-yard gap between passing yards and rushing yards is the closest among teams in the top 20 for total offense, as seen here. However, reaching similar balance will not be an easy challenge for Ward or the rest of the offense.
As mentioned in a recent article of mine, Houston's regular season schedule is more intense than in 2015, and it's fair to say that there are more than just a few opponents who could compete with the Cougars.
The schedule's increase in difficulty will be combated by the offense's continued familiarity with Ward. In 2015, UH head coach Tom Herman and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Major Applewhite were able to not only emphasize Ward's ability, they were able to tailor the offense around him.
The pair let Ward sling the ball in 2015 when opportunities presented themselves, but they also knew that for Ward to be able to pass freely, he would have to punish opponents in the running game. Herman and Applewhite embraced his nose for the endzone, and Ward was able to rush for 21 touchdowns.
It makes sense that there would be a similar strategy implemented in 2016. However, Ward is getting two new weapons to work with in four-star wide receiver signee Courtney Lark and Oklahoma State transfer WR Ra'Shaad Samples, who will look to replace WR Demarcus Ayers.
The addition of these two means that Houston has better options top-to-bottom in the WR group, and it may be hard to shy away from that, especially when Ward took drastic steps to ensure possession, evidenced by his seven total interceptions and 148.9 QB rating.
2015 was a bit of a proving point for Ward, and he passed with flying colors. The Cougars have an exceptional talent on their hands, and planning the offense through his ability to run and pass provides the natural balance that most teams look for.
It doesn't seem like UH can go wrong with a similar game plan to 2015's, but the addition of new receivers and Ward's established success could see more risks taken through the air in the passing game. Either way, Houston has a rock-solid foundation with Ward leading the offense.