People assume that winning at Houston is easy. The Cougars have excellent facilities, better than most Power 5s and Houston sits in the middle of one of the fertile recruiting areas in the state. Plus, Houston has won consistently for over a decade. Success requires constant tending from a talented gardener. The University of Houston is a pillar of great coaching hires, from Briles to Sumlin, to Levine, to Herman. Now it's Major Applewhite's turn to tend to Houston. Last year revealed how tenuous winning could be at Houston.
The bar is raised at Houston, the Cougars spend and build with the big boys and a falloff in wins won't be tolerated. That's how you become the winningest program in the state over the last decade. So how does Houston move forward into 2018? We have some ideas.
Welcome Kendal Briles
Ignoring whatever blowback exists from hiring Kendal Briles, he knows offense, and he'll make Houston better, quickly. This spring he's installing his version of the Bear Raid which is probably better termed the Revenant because that Bear would maul you. Baylor's vertical offense came by good honest, brutality in the offensive line.
Baylor consistently rushed at a nationally elite level. For Houston, running the football has been an inconsistent endeavor, Briles offenses have been nothing if not consistent in pushing people around and creating chances downfield.
Briles and Baylor never shared the secret sauce, so the install this spring will be critical and a departure from Brian Johnson's approach. Briles will love the lanky, vertical stretching receivers Houston returns, what he won't love is the loss of Duke Catalon. Finding a running back rotation this spring is important, and Houston has options including Mulbah Car. Baylor's offense performed pretty well without blue-chip running backs, when they started landing blue-chip backs, the Bears took off.
Houston running backs will learn to get north and south and rush efficiently, or they won't see the field. Car, Davion Mitchell, and Patrick Carr will get reps this spring, and the hope is that combination can carry the load.
In other areas, Houston must replace the right side of the offensive line and two of the most productive receivers in Houston history, more on that later, but there's talent on the roster to fill those holes. Plus we think D'Eriq King is a perfect fit for the offense and Briles will find a way to use King's gifts, which starts this spring.
Briles' offense is centered on having the chalk last, in other words, regardless of how the defense adjusts or schemes, Briles' offense is fluid and flexible enough to adjust. But make no mistake, if Houston can get a foothold running the ball, they will be lethal in the AAC.
Finding Another Quarterback
The Kyle Allen era at Houston was short-lived, and Allen surprised most of us by declaring for the NFL draft. Kyle Postma is gone after what seemed like a decade at Houston. That leaves D'Eriq King and a bunch of guys who've never thrown a collegiate pass. We aren't worried about King, just what happens if he's not there. Houston missed out on Tyler Lee quarterback Chance Amie who defected to Syracuse at the last minute. Amie was darn near a total package and might have been the quarterback of the very near future in 3rd Ward.
Bryson Smith, a redshirt freshman from Tyler, is perhaps the most promising. He's undersized, physically resembling King, but he's also explosive. He's a run-first quarterback, but he threw for over 3,700 yards as a senior at TJT. At the first sign of trouble, he was gone, and that was bad news for opponents.
Clayton Tune flipped from Kansas to Houston late in the recruiting process. Tune is a "pro-style" quarterback recruiting services, but that label undersells his athleticism. He's a willing runner and at 6-3 provides ideal height. Tune throws it well in a high school system and changes arm angles and throws on the run pretty well.
Houston also signed Julon Williams out of powerhouse Judson. He's 5-9 and started for the Rockets since his sophomore year. His Nike combine time clocked him slower than I anticipated, but he ran away from people in high school. His slight build would do well with some more meat on the bone. You don't accumulate 10,000 and 118 touchdowns in high school without a lot of talent. Houston lists him as a combo QB/WR. That's not a big deal, just ask Greg Ward Jr. and King. Williams and Tune are already on campus and going through drills.
Houston had the luxury of Kyle Postma, who hung around, ready to go, for three plus years. He was prepared to go and didn't cause much drop-off. Identifying who among the list of unknowns can step in as the need arises a huge area of need this spring.
Replacing Linell and Steven
Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar will go down as the best duo of receivers in school history after Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards. Bonner and Dunbar combined for over 60 starts and almost 400 catches. Houston also loses Derek McLemore, John Leday, and Ellis Jefferson.
Now Houston turns to some talented receivers who'll need to step up production. Leading the charge is Courtney Lark a rising Junior who chose Houston over Baylor, TCU, Kansas State, UCLA, Kentucky and a slew of other Power 5s. The Four-star prospect started coming into his own at the end of last season.
Keith Corbin is another talented younger player who chose Houston over a bunch of P5 offers. Last year he caught ten passes and averaged 16 yards a grab. He looks like a player that will excel running nine routes for Briles' offense. Consistency is the key and the obstacle.
After Bonner's 80 catches, Dunbar's 76, and Leday's 25, the next leading receiver is currently the starting quarterback. Corbin's ten catches qualify him as the leading returning receiver. There are catches to be had this fall and challenge to figure out who'll be making them starts now.
Year Two Under Mark D'Onofrio
Following in the footsteps of Todd Orlando is not an enviable position. Orlando crafted the Third Ward Defense into an aggressive, fast, physical, turnover making machine. He followed Herman to Austin and is now one of the highest paid assistants in college football. D'Onofrio took 2016 off after coaching Miami's defense for Al Golden, Applewhite hired him hoping the unit wouldn't fall off from 2016's excellence.
Houston's defense under D'Onofrio fell from 13th in 2016 to 89th last season. Cougars watched longingly as Orlando's Texas defense grew into one of the best in college football during the second half of the season.
2018 won't be a cakewalk for D'Onofrio, even with the return of Ed Oliver. Houston loses Nick Thurman and Reggie Chevis up front along with Matthew Adams and D'Juan Hines at linebacker. Those losses sting, Hines put up some video game numbers near the end of last year, and Adams contributed for three years. Add in Khalil Williams, and Terrell Williams and the Cougars are missing a lot of tackles and experience, with four of their top six defenders gone.
Last year's results plus the 2018 rebuild make this a big season for D'Onofrio.