A marquee matchup between two preseason offensive juggernauts has turned sour. Houston’s 1-3 start and the news that D’Eriq King, Keith Corbin, and other Coogs are redshirting in anticipation of the 2020 season dampened expectations earlier this week. They’ll still play the game on Saturday night, but the mega-contest between G5 Powers anticipated since the spring is now a hard sell.
Let’s talk through three storylines for the Facebook feature.
Monitor the Effort
I’m not sure how Houston responds on Saturday night, but I’ll be watching intently. Keep in mind, before the shocking announcements on Monday; the Coogs were still coming off two tough outings - a heart-wrenching loss at Tulane and a week prior, a gut-punch to Washington State.
In certain circumstances a program is forced to into a cultural response. In other words, whether it’s a critical drive, responding to a devastating injury, or toughcall, does a program get off the mat? Do they punch back or rollover? For Houston, Saturday is a cultural test and a challenging one. Dana Holgorsen’s new regime is grasping for a foothold on their season, and now with their best offensive weapon off the table, the difficulty of that effort multiplies.
This isn’t the Houston of 2015 and 2016; the Coogs are 3-7 in their last ten. Their Third Ward Defense is a shadow of its former chaos causing self. And the explosive plays generated by the previous offenses are not translating to Holgorsen’s new scheme.
Does Houston fold up shop and roll over for the rest of 2019? Does this program buy into what its staff is selling? We’ll find out a lot on Saturday night.
Meet Clayton Tune
Clayton Tune started the final two games of the 2018 season; once King went down with a knee injury. His results varied greatly. In a critical AAC West game to end the season at Memphis, Tune struggled with the Tigers. In a blowout loss bowl trip against Army, he played more efficiently but with minimal impact on the game.
On the season Tune completed just 50.4% of his attempts, but he did throw for eight touchdowns in limited duty.
Until Monday he was the quarterback of the future. Now he’s the quarterback of, well, now. He does some things well. He’s got a big arm, for example; he’s a decent athlete. Watching the Tulane game, I thought, this offense would be in real trouble without D’Eriq King. King made a more significant percentage of plays off schedule, when pressure forced him out of the pocket, or off his mark. That skill is a necessity given Houston’s line issues. Now that burden falls on Tune who must demonstrate the ability to create plays when protection breaks down.
He can’t do that with the same regularity as King, and he certainly won’t force defenses to account for his speed. Remember, King is not only Houston’s leading passer, but he’s also the Coogs’ leading rusher. Houston is about to get a lot more conventional, we’ll see if they can achieve offensive potency.
Bodie Reeder’s Influence
While Graham Harrell’s been spreading the seeds of the Air Raid in SoCal, Bodie Reeder’s been quietly transforming the Mean Green offense. He is using his talented backs, Tre Siggers and DeAndre Torrey more frequently and with better results. North Texas averages a yard better per carry than in 2018.
Last week Mason Fine started to play a bit more like Mason Fine. He completed 68% of his throws, didn’t turn the ball over, he spread his seventeen completions around eight receivers. After two subpar performances, Fine played better and more efficiently against the Roadrunners.
With Rico Bussey lost for the season, Reeder faces a further challenge. However, Siggers and Torrey make up for a lot of the shortcomings. Siggers is a stud who looks more and more like a 1,000-yard rusher with each carry. Torrey appeared destined for that role after 2018. His play hasn’t dropped off. Siggers is just that good.
Reeder is more committed to the run than Harrell, and the combination of an efficient Fine and a potent running game will provide a lot of headaches for defenses. Houston’s struggling unit might be in for a long night.