2016 Game 2 Preview: Lamar
By: Jimmy Schofield
Coming off a huge win versus the third ranked Oklahoma Sooners, your Houston Cougars return to the comfy confines of TDECU Stadium this Saturday for an 11AM (CST) kickoff as they host the Lamar Cardinals. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.com and the American Sports Network (check your local listings).
Entering its seventh season as a program, the Cardinals of the FCS shouldn’t give the Cougars much of a contest Saturday. Not that head coach Tom Herman would ever admit as much as he did on an American Athletic Conference media press conference call yesterday, “We have a very mature team, very businesslike team and I think they understand that this is college football and if you don’t bring you’re ‘A’ game each and every week you’re going to be in for a dog fight. And our culture is such that if there’s any ounce of complacency or if you let your foot off the pedal for even a second, you’re gonna get smacked in the face with the proverbial shovel. And I don’t think the leaders of this team would never allow that to happen.”
Having said that, this pre game preview will focus more on what the Cougars need to improve on rather than what they need to do in order to defeat the Cardinals, though we will touch on them in a bit.
The saying goes a team improves the most from its first to the second game. In defeating the Sooners 33-23, the Coogs rolled up 410 total yards, but surprisingly most of it was through the air as they only had 89 yards rushing versus a tough Sooners defensive front which was focused on not letting quarter back Greg Ward Jr. (5-foot-11 inches, 190 pounds, Sr.) beat them with his legs.
With the interior clogged, Ward was able to hit his receivers to the tune of 321 passing yards on 23-of-40 completions with a touchdown. His 58-percent completion percentage would have been higher if not for a few drops. What’s impressed me the most is his overall improvement as a passer, especially on back shoulder fades which are almost impossible to defend. Steven Dunbar (6-foot-3, 210, Jr.) led the wide receiver unit with 125 yards on 7 catches as offensive coordinator Major Applewhite picked on a smaller Sooners cornerback for most of the game.
Maybe this week Chance Allen (6-foot-3, 215, Sr.) will have his coming out party as he only had one catch for five yards last week as he was held in check by the Sooners best cover corner. Returning as the leading receiver from last year, Allen should expect the same type of treatment by opposing secondaries all season long so it’s imperative other receivers step up. Linell Bonner (6-foot, 200, Jr.) had 4 receptions on 64 yards including a beautiful sideline grab to extend a third quarter scoring drive, but also had a few easy drops which he must clean up. Isaiah Johnson (6-foot-4, 205, So.) had 2 receptions for 60 yards including a 44 yard bomb as Applewhite tested the Sooners secondary early and often which is a huge part of the offense.
Speaking of which, the play-action passing game doesn’t work well unless the running game is effective. While running back Duke Catalon (6-foot, 200, So.) was able to rush on the perimeter as he had 88 yards on 22 carries for a decent 4 yards-per-carry average, he must be able to run inside as the season progresses.
The offensive line of Josh Jones (6-foot-5, 280, RFr.), Mason Denley (6-foot-4, 305, So.), Will Noble (6-foot-4, 290, So.), Mac Long (6-foot-4, 300, Sr.) and Na’Ty Rodgers (6-foot-5, 292, Jr.), from left to right tackle, did a decent job overall, especially in pass protection, but must improve in their inside zone run scheme. Overall it was a good game considering Jones, Long and Rodgers all started their first college games on the FBS level.
One aspect Herman and Applewhite will want to focus on during practice this week is red zone efficiency. While they were eighth nationally last year in touchdown percentage at 73-percent (49 TDs in 67 opportunities), the offense only crossed the goal line on two of six chances Saturday against a Sooners defense that would not let Ward beat them with the QB draw or sweep. Kicker Ty Cummings (6-foot, 180, Sr.) connected on three field goals inside the 20 and four for the game overall. He attempted eight all of last season.
Defensively, while Sooners QB Baker Mayfield completed 24-of-33 passes for 323 yards, he wore down later in the game after being hit viciously all game long. The secondary had a few breakdowns in communication which allowed a few big plays early but that’s to be expected early in the season, especially considering the fact that there are three new starters in the defensive backfield.
Herman on his secondary yesterday during his weekly local media presser (via uhcougars.com), “the two young safeties back there didn’t do a great job communicating, it was again more nerves than it was the way they are being coached or what they are being asked to do, we’ve got to clean that up and we can’t have the kind of busts that we had in the secondary.”
Those two young safeties, Khalil Williams (6-foot, 200, Jr.) and Garrett Davis (6-foot-1, 200, So.), improved as the game wore on, and hit with the effectiveness that defensive coordinator Todd Orlando preaches. In fact, an early hit from Davis on Sooners RB Samaje Perine put the bruising back on ice for most of the game as he only had 31 yards on 6 carries. The Sooners had 70 rushing yards total on 26 carries against a hard hitting Cougars front seven.
The linebackers missed some run fits (their assigned gaps) on the Sooners first possession in which they allowed 62 yards on only 5 carries including a 32 yard TD run up the middle by Joe Mixon, but after that the “Third Ward Defense” came downhill hard and fast against the Sooners O-line. Linebacker Steven Taylor (6-foot-1, 225, Jr.) was his usual dynamic self as he had two tackles-for-loss and two sacks. Fellow inside linebacker Mathew Adams (6-foot, 230, Jr.) played a nice game as he was second on the defense with nine tackles while forcing a fumble.
With the run game shut down and a Cougars lead forcing OU to pass more as the game progressed, Orlando ramped up the pressure throwing blitzes from various angles as Mayfield was sacked five times, with two coming from the aforementioned Taylor, two from Ed Oliver (6-foot-2, 290, Fr.) and one from fellow defensive tackle Cameron Malveaux (6-foot-6, 270, Sr.).
Saturday was a coming out party for the five star signee out of Houston Westfield as Oliver added seven total tackles (five solo) as he chased Sooners down from all over the field. Fellow defensive linemen Jerard Carter (6-foot-3, 290, So.), Nick Thurman (6-foot-4, 290, Jr.) and B.J. Singleton (6-foot-4, 305, Sr.) held the interior gaps up front allowing the linebackers and secondary to shoot the gaps for nine total tackles-for-loss.
Cornerbacks Jeremey Winchester (6-feet, 190, So.) and Howard Wilson (6-foot-1, 185, RSo.) did a good job in coverage for the most part, while nickel back Brandon Wilson (5-foot-11, 200, Sr.) led the defense with 10 tackles.
Though Wilson had that spectacular 109 (errr, 100) yard return off the missed field goal, he still had two bad kick returns in which he only brought the ball out to the Coogs 11 and 7 yard lines on their first two possessions. His hesitation cost him on those two kick returns, but he has such athletic ability, power running through traffic and speed that special teams coordinator Jason Washington has to give him leeway in making those decisions on whether or not to bring the ball out or take a touchback. If Wilson’s aggressiveness is taken away, Coogfans might not get his 109 return against the Sooners, or last year’s 100 yard return at Louisville (in which he also brought back from deep in the end zone).
Injury wise, Ward had a sore shoulder but should be able to practice and play this week, as is the case with Catalon. Many would think the two would play little to save them for next Thursday’s AAC battle at Cincinnati, but the team culture won’t allow them to focus on anything but the Cardinals, so I look for both to play until the game gets out of hand.
Scouting the Cardinals
Lamar, out of the Southland Conference of the FCS or Division the I-AA level, lost their season opener last week 38-14 as they hosted the 16th ranked Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina. They are coached by Ray Woodard (31-39; 7th year).
Offensively, the Cardinals run a spread option scheme with RPO (run pass option) principles in the passing game. Offensive coordinator Woodard wants to get his quarterback, Carson Earp (6-foot-4, 219, Sr.) out on the perimeter, giving him the option on whether to run or pass. Earp, a distant relative of Wyatt Earp (yes that Wyatt Earp), connected on only 13-of-27 passes last week against Coastal Carolina for 154 yards and threw two interceptions. As a JC transfer, Earp started three games last season, completing 42-of-78 passes for 576 yards with 7 TDs to 2 interceptions.
The Cards want to run the ball first, and they want to do this behind running back Kade Harrington (5-foot-9, 192, Sr.). The runner up for the FCS Heisman Trophy last season, Harrington has started in 28 of his career 33 games and had 2,092 rushing yards during the 2015 season on 266 carries for a tidy 7.9 yards-per-carry average over just 10 games. He also rushed for 21 TDs. He also caught an additional 14 passes for 213 yards and two scores as they want to get him the ball in as many ways as possible. Harrington picked up last week where he left off last season as he rushed for 207 yards on 28 carries with long runs of 59 and 64 for TDs. He has an FCS record 27 straight games with a TD.
He runs behind a veteran offensive line that allowed only FIVE sacks all last season. Dante Cattaneo (6-foot-3, 267 Sr) starts at left tackle with Connor Ward (6-foot-3 298 Jr.) alongside him at left guard. John Craven (6-foot-3 278 Jr.) is center, with Kanon Mackey (6-foot-4, 312, So.) at right guard, and Joe Gonzales (6-foot-4 303, So.) at right tackle. Cattaneo, Ward and Craven are all returning starters as the Cardinals averaged 266.8 yards-per-game rushing last season.
When they do have to pass, look for Marcus Daggs, a 6-foot-2, 191 pound transfer from Cisco College to be targeted as he led the team last week with 4 receptions for 42 yards from the slot. DeAndre Jennings is a huge target at 6-foot-1 and 244 pounds as their Y or tight end. Zac Giles (5-foot-9, 153, So.) and DeWan Thompson (5-foot-7, 172, So.) are diminutive slot receivers who love to run crossers over the middle.
Defensivley, the Cardinals run a 4-2-5 scheme, led by defensive ends Manasseh Miles (6-feet, 222, So.) and Brannon Beaton (6-foot-3, 249, Sr.) and big interior tackles Larry Carrol (6-foot-3, 310, Sr.) and Omar Tebo (6-feet, 330, Sr.). They have two athletic linebackers in Cameron Hampton (6-foot-2, 206 So) and middle linebacker Matt Johnson (5-foot-11, 221, Sr.). The Cardinals secondary is led by rangy free safety Xavier Bethany (6-foot-1, 195, So.) and shut down corner Brendan Langley (6-foot-2, 193, Sr.).
It’s not usual that the Cougars outsize its opponent at almost every position, and Lamar is a typical outsized FCS school that relies on getting to the ball with speed. The game plan this week should be simple; run the ball right at the undersized defensive front with their up-tempo no huddle spread. Then go deep via the play action passing game.
Defensively, Orlando will have his front seven attacking a small Lamar O-line that averages only 291 pounds per man across the line. Force the Cardinals into obvious second and third-and-long passing situations and unleash the “Third Ward Defense.” This is when opponents usually get tired, and turnovers become key.
Prediction: As Clubber Lang said before he faced Rocky (in the first fight), “Prediction? Paaaaaaain!”
Final Score: Houston 56 Lamar 7