A look back and a look ahead
By: Jimmy Schofield
In a total team meltdown, the Houston Cougars lost their first game of the season, 63-49 in Lubbock against the Texas Tech Red Raiders Saturday afternoon. Coogfans.com breaks down the game and looks towards next week as they host cross town rival, the Texas Southern Tigers.
Offensively the Coogs (2-1) racked up 635 yards of total offense on 92 plays. Quarterback D’Eriq King passed for 431 of the team’s 462 yards with FIVE touchdown tosses while the team rushed for 173 yards on 40 carries (4.3 yards-per-carry). The Manvel product started off scorching hot, completing 11 of his first 14 passes for 245 yards and three scores. Unfortunately, he, and the offense, tapered off after that first quarter. The second quarter saw him pass for just 35 yards while completing just 5-of-11 passes. The second half saw King complete 14-of-26 passes for 149 yards.
Marquez Stevenson had another great game with 177 yards on 9 grabs and 2 TD’s including one for 79 yards that King “dropped in the bucket” giving the good guys a 21-14 lead midway through the first. Keith Corbin caught King’s two other TD’s as he caught 7 balls himself for 103 yards. Courtney Lark added 52 yards on 5 grabs while Bryson Smith added 33 yards on two catches. Raelon Singleton had his first catch of the year that went for an 18-yard score in which the Utah transfer showed some great hands. Jeremy Singleton also contributed 31 yards on 3 catches with tight end Romello Brooker had 26 yards on 2 receptions including a 22-yarder down the seem off play-action.
While King has a plethora of riches at the wide receiver position, the unit as a whole continues to drop too many passes. While it’s obvious that Stevenson is the team’s top play-maker (as he averages 108 yards per game through three games to rank 14th nationally), he dropped another pass Saturday, as did Corbin. By my unofficial count, the unit has more than 15 drops so far through three games.
Rushing wise, the trio of Terrence Williams , Patrick Carr and Mulbah Car had a combined 141 yards on just 24 attempts for a tidy 5.9 yards-per-carry average. King had his best game rushing, adding 47 yards on 11 attempts. Six of those attempts by my unofficial account came with number-4 pulling the ball down (due to Texas Tech defensive pressure), in which he rushed for 26 yards including the game’s final score, a 5-yard scamper into the endzone on a pulldown.
The offensive line of Josh Jones , Mason Denley , Will Noble , Braylon Jones and Jarrid Williams only allowed one sack (and three on the season), but still allowed too much pressure to an aggressive Tech front-7, making it more difficult for King to complete passes down the field as the game progressed. This is where offensive coordinator Kendal Briles needs to step in and help his offensive line out. While deep passes are entertaining for fans, they are tiring for offensive linemen in the amount of time they have to pass protect. Not to mention they are low percentage passes. For the season King has a sub-60 percent completion percentage. I’m sure Briles would like to see it in the mid 60’s minimum. King is ninth in the nation in passing at 334 yards-per-game.
For the season the offense averages just a tad over 23 minutes of in game possession, ranking them 128th nationally (note that there are 130 teams in the FBS). This kills a defense that needs every advantage it can get. Head coach Major Applewhite realizes this as he said during his weekly media press conference on Monday, “It’s great to be explosive, but there’s time when you need to control the game.”
Mark D’Onofrio ’s defense allowed a whopping 605 yards passing (on 43-of-59 completions) to true freshman Alan Bowman, a Big12 record. Whether they played zone or man-to-man, their fundamentals were bad as far as playing no bump-and-run when in man coverage and were once again horrible in communicating when passing off Tech receivers from zone to zone. It was basic pitch-and-catch as Tech outside receivers Antoine Wesley and TJ Vasher combined for nearly 275 yards themselves on 19 receptions. With both at 6-foot-5 inches it was no contest on jump balls over cornerbacks Isaiah Johnson , Alexander Myres and Nick Watkins. The Notre Dame transfer did have 3 pass breakups with Myres adding one himself. Free safety Garrett Davis went down on the first series of the game with a broken foot (helping him to miss a tackle that led to a 56-yard pass completion). Gleson Spreewell played well in his place with 8 total tackles (6 solo) while Deontay Anderson added 9 tackles. Neither had a pass breakup as they didn’t do a good job of covering Tech’s slot receivers.
Of course, it doesn’t help a secondary when its defensive front can’t get any pressure on opposing QB’s. Part of Kliff Kingsbury’s strategy was tiring out the front via quick passes, which were easy considering the off-coverage deployed by D’Onofrio. Add a plethora of missed tackles and it’s easy to see why Tech averaged 14 yards per completion. Ed Oliver forced three Tech holding calls on his own as the nose guard had four solo stops including one for loss. Isaiah Chambers had his fourth sack of the season. But like Applewhite said on Monday, it’s difficult getting to the opposing QB when the ball is out of his hands so quickly.
Inside linebackers Roman Brown and Austin Robinson led the D in tackles again with 12 and 10 respectively. Unfortunately, many of them came down the field after huge Tech plays in the passing game. They also allowed the Red Raiders to rush for 129 yards, but 100 came in the second half once the defense became worn down as Tech snapped the ball 100 times and held the ball for over 35-minutes of game time.
D’Onofrio’s bend-and-break defense is becoming the bend AND break D as they’ve allowed a whopping 11 touchdowns in 14 red zone opponent’s opportunities, including 7-for-7 against Tech. This is something they need to work on this week as a hungry Texas Southern squad will invade TDECU at 6pm (CST) in a game to be televised via ESPN3. The Tigers are averaging just 20 points-per-game through three games (1-2) but pass for 281 yards while rushing for just 54. What I’m hoping to see is a cornerback not give up inside leverage against an opposing wide receiver and allow an easy reception on a slant because he thinks safety help is over the top, while none is there in reality or is simply late getting there. These communication issues need to get fixed against a team that throws the ball nearly 40 times per game.
Defensively the Tigers allow 26 points, while opponents average 433 total yards (220 passing, 210 rushing). This should be a game where the Coogs control both sides of the line of scrimmage and win easily. With Terence Williams gone for 3-to-6 weeks due to a knee injury, it’ll be up to Car and Carr to pick it up. Look for the team to get off to a hot start while showing off the depth that Applewhite says the team needs as the season progresses.
Final prediction : Houston 56 Texas Southern 21