Is it tanking if you do not get a draft choose for it? That is a query I wrestled with when making an attempt to determine what to name what Dana Holgorsen did with the Houston program throughout his first season in cost. After getting off to a 1-Three begin that included losses to Oklahoma and Washington State, Holgorsen decided I do not know what number of different coaches could be prepared to make.
He primarily punted on 2019. Because of the NCAA’s new rule that enables gamers to look in 4 video games and nonetheless take a redshirt, Holgorsen noticed a possibility to organize his crew to be in a greater place come 2020. He satisfied 5 of his senior starters — together with star quarterback D’Eriq King — to take a four-game redshirt. These seniors have been a part of a gaggle that included 35 gamers redshirting general. As you’d anticipate would occur in a state of affairs like that, Houston struggled in 2019. Its deliberate lack of depth took a toll because the crew suffered accidents, and the Cougars completed the season 4-8.
So was it tanking? I really feel just like the phrase “tanking” has such adverse connotations. How about we name it “constructing for the longer term” as a substitute? Coming into the 2020 season, Houston is hoping that final yr’s efforts to “construct for the longer term” repay, and there is a respectable probability they may. Let’s check out a couple of explanation why this may very well be the case.
1. The Cougars have one of the crucial proficient rosters within the Group of 5: Constructing for the longer term did not go precisely as deliberate. When King determined to redshirt after beginning the primary 4 video games of the season, he did so desiring to return to Houston in 2020. As an alternative, King, like LeBron James earlier than him, took his abilities to South Seaside as he joined the Hurricanes this offseason. The Cougars additionally misplaced two of their higher offensive linemen from a unit final yr that was bruised and battered. Left deal with Josh Jones was taken within the third spherical of the NFL Draft. Proper deal with Jarrid Williams adopted King to Miami (FL), although he waited till this spring to take action.
That leaves an offensive line with out loads of depth however extra expertise than you would possibly notice. 4 of the projected starters on the road in 2020 will probably be seniors, whereas 6-foot-7 Patrick Paul began the ultimate three video games of 2020 at left deal with and was capable of take a redshirt. Nonetheless, the general lack of depth is essentially the most vital space of concern on this Houston crew heading into 2020. It is a concern Houston hopes to beat in different areas of the roster.
Whereas 247Sports activities hasn’t up to date its expertise rankings for the 2020 season, Houston’s roster ranked second in the American Athletic Conference last season, only a sliver behind UCF for the highest spot. Shedding guys like King and Jones hurts that, however there’s nonetheless loads of expertise general.
You would possibly keep in mind that in 2016, Houston landed Ed Oliver because the cornerstone of its recruiting class. Oliver was a five-star prospect and the No. 6 general participant in his class. He was the largest recruit in program historical past. Nicely, whereas Oliver left after three seasons, different members of that class — which completed No. 36 nationally — are nonetheless round. A kind of gamers was Braylon Jones, who took a redshirt as a senior final season, and can probably begin at heart on the offensive line, in addition to beginning left guard Keenan Murphy. Working again Mulbah Automobile and receivers Marquez Stevenson and Keith Corbin have been part of that class as nicely, and the offense ought to profit from their return.
2. The receiver corps is full of playmakers. Whereas it will likely be troublesome to exchange a participant like King, Houston does get pleasure from having terrific playmakers on the receiver place. This was a gaggle, led by Marquez Stevenson, that confirmed a propensity for making issues occur after the catch. As a crew, Houston receivers averaged 8.07 yards after the catch final season. That quantity completed seventh nationally, with two of the groups forward of Houston being service academies (possibility offenses do not throw loads of brief passes). Apart from Air Power and Navy, Houston was the one Group of 5 program to complete within the prime 10 of the class.
YAC per Reception
Stevenson deserves a big portion of the credit score. He completed the yr with 907 yards receiving on 52 receptions, each of which led the crew. Nonetheless, 556 of these 907 yards (61.3% of them) got here after the catch. Stevenson averaged 10.69 yards after the catch per reception final season. Amongst FBS receivers with at the least 50 targets in 2019, that quantity ranked fifth, behind names like DeVonta Smith, CeeDee Lamb and Brandon Aiyuk, however forward of men like Henry Ruggs, Ja’Marr Chase and Jerry Jeudy.
Antonio Gibson, Memphis
DeVonta Smith, Alabama
CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
Marquez Stevenson, Houston
Tutu Atwell, Louisville
Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
Tamorrion Terry, Florida State
Deangelo Antoine, FAU
Ronnie Bell, Michigan
Stevenson is not alone, both. I discussed earlier that Keith Corbin is returning, and he was one of many seniors who redshirted final season. In 2018, he caught 40 passes for 691 yards and 10 touchdowns. Then there’s Tre’Von Bradley, who flashed indicators of Stevenson-esque capacity after the catch final season, averaging 9.63 yards after the catch per reception on 29 grabs.
Throw in Jeremy Singleton, who emerged as a dependable possession kind in Corbin’s absence final yr, and juco switch Nathaniel Dell, and Houston might need the very best receiving corps within the AAC in 2020.
All of which might make Clayton Tune’s possibilities of “changing” King a bit higher.
3. Clayton Tune is not D’Eriq King, however he would not must be. Tune was thrust into the beginning function final yr after King determined to redshirt. He’s nowhere close to as dynamic as King, however that does not imply he cannot be a succesful quarterback for the Cougars. The truth is, Tune outperformed King in a few key areas final yr. Tune had a better landing fee, a better completion fee, a better on-target fee and averaged extra yards per try than King did.
After all, King’s numbers final yr have been nicely under his profession numbers, and 4 video games weren’t a lot of a pattern dimension. Nonetheless, the numbers give a motive for hope with Tune, who spent a lot of final season coping with a hamstring harm. This is a have a look at how Tune carried out in some key areas in comparison with the AAC’s prime 4 rated passers final season.
Yards per Try
Air Yards per Try
Brady White, Memphis
Dillon Gabriel, UCF
Shane Buechele, SMU
Holton Ahlers, East Carolina
Clayton Tune, Houston
As you possibly can see, Tune holds up fairly nicely towards them in most classes, however his interception fee was horrific as compared. The truth is, amongst 115 FBS QBs to throw at the least 175 passes final season, Tune’s interception fee of 5% ranked 111th. It was the evident weak point in his recreation, and it is one thing he wants to enhance on if Houston goes to bounce again and show able to competing within the AAC in 2020.
The hope is that with improved efficiency from the offensive line, Tune will enhance a few of his choices, which might assist restrict turnovers and enhance his accuracy general.
4. An skilled protection ought to result in higher outcomes. In 2019, the Houston protection allowed 19.1 factors per recreation within the second half. Solely SMU allowed extra at 19.2 factors per recreation. After all, the Houston protection additionally allowed 16.5 factors per recreation within the first half, which ranked 86th nationally. So, it wasn’t precisely good in both half, however that distinction between halves is a powerful indication of how a skinny unit would put on down over the course of 60 minutes. Notably because the offense adopted the identical script (16.9 ppg within the first half, 13.2 ppg in second).
The excellent news is that protection returns almost all people. In accordance with Bill Connelly’s returning production rankings at ESPN.com, the Houston protection returns 93% of its manufacturing on the defensive aspect of the ball. That ranks third nationally behind solely Georgia Tech and Rice. The items 10 main tacklers all return. On the line of defense, Payton Turner, David Anenih and Derek Parish mixed for 11 sacks and 20.5 TFL, they usually’re all again. Grant Stuard strikes to the weakside linebacker spot after main the crew in each tackles (97) and TFL (9.5).
Within the secondary, Deontay Anderson, Damarion Williams and Shaun Lewis all return. They are going to be buttressed by a number of transfers, together with former Troy defensive again Marcus Jones. All of which provides as much as a unit that may not have the star energy it as soon as held with Ed Oliver anchoring the line of defense, however offers loads of depth. The type of depth that ought to maintain the unit from cratering in second halves once more and permit the crew to remain in additional video games.
All of which makes Houston one of many extra attention-grabbing groups to comply with in 2020. Whereas I would not name it a probable final result, there’s an opportunity this Cougars crew rebounds from a 4-Eight season to competing for an AAC title in 2020. Competing for an AAC title would additionally put the Cougars in competition for a New 12 months’s Six spot, because the AAC has claimed that place in every of the previous three seasons, and 4 occasions within the College Football Playoff’s six-year historical past.
If it really works out that means, whether or not you need to name Houston’s 2019 technique tanking or constructing for the longer term, you will probably see loads of different packages undertake the philosophy.