THE AAC REPORT.

AAC preview: With a new coach at the helm, the Houston Cougars should be one of the top teams in the conference

On the heels of another season, The University of Houston is set to begin another year of College Football on Sunday, as the Cougars open their 2019 schedule against the No. 4 ranked team in the country, the Oklahoma Sooners. While some may overlook the significance of the non-conference match, Sunday's kickoff at The Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, OK will mark the beginning of a new era for Houston.

After a disappointing year that saw the team go 8-5, the Cougars made some significant changes to their program in 2019, but none more important than the hiring of Dana Holgorsen. Holgorsen, 48, comes to the University of Houston after severing eight years as the head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers, where he turned the football program into one of the most respected schools in the Big 12 Conference, with a 61-41 record.

And much like his time in West Virginia, one should expect Holgorsen to transform Houston's football program into one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference starting this season.

Players to watch

QB D'Eriq King

One of the factors that could make the Cougars a dangerous team this season is the talent Holgorsen has one his team, starting with senior quarterback, D'Eriq King. The 5'11 quarterback from Manvel, Texas had a breakout season in 2018 here he recorded 2982 passing yards and 36 touchdowns, on 345 attempts. It is also worth mentioning that Kings rushed for a career-high 674 yards on 111 carries.

Since signing with Houston in 2016, Kings has always displayed the talents as a top tear quarterback, but 2019 maybe his year to finally led the Cougars to an AAC championship title. He is one of 30 quarterbacks listed in the this year's Manning Award Watch List, as well as ranked 40th overall in ESPN's 2019 Top 50 College Players in 2019. If King can live up to the high preseason expectations, the Cougars can easily become one of the top football teams in all the nation.

WR Marquez Stevenson

After a slow start to his freshman season, Houston's wideout, Marquez Stevenson, had an explosive year in 2018. As a sophomore, Stevenson posted career-highs across the boards with 1019 receiving yards, 75 catches, and nine touchdowns. Last season, he was the only receiver to record over 1,000 yards, and as he heads into his junior season, one should expect Stevenson to solidify himself as one of the top wideouts in the American Athletic Conference.

RB Patrick Carr

Houston's running back, Patrick Carr, is heading into his final year as the starting running back for the Cougars, and one should expect another great season from the Woodlands native. Last year, Carr led all players in rushing with 868 and five touchdowns. With competition for the starting position in the backfield coming from Kyle Porter, a transfer from Texas, Carr will be on high alert not to lose his starting spot in his senior season.

LB Isaiah Chambers

Despite having one of the best defensive players in Ed Oliver, the Cougars had one of the worst defensive teams in all of college football last season. It was the worst statistical seasons in school history, recording 483 points allowed, giving up 6,454 total yards, and 42 rushing touchdowns. However, under coach Holgorsen, it is safe to say that Houston's defense will undergo a major improvement in 2019, and a huge factor in their turn around will be linebacker, Isaiah Chambers.

Chambers' 2018 season ended prematurely due to a knee injury, but now healthy, one should expect Chamber to have a major impact on Houston's defense. Prior to the injury, Chamber got off to a nice start with 4.5 sacks in the first five games.

CB Damarion Williams

Another player that will make a positive impact on Houston's defense is cornerback back, Damarion Williams. Although this is his first season playing D-1 football, Williams addition to the team may be one of the most underrated acquisitions of the offseason. As a member of the NJCAA All-America First Team at Highland Community College, Williams led the nation with seven interceptions and 17 pass breakups.

Although he will be facing a higher level of competition in the AAC, Williams' talent will be enough to keep the Cougars from giving up another 6,454 in total yards.

Key Games

  • The University of Houston at Tulane, Thursday, September 19th.
  • SMU at The University of Houston, Thursday, October 24th.
  • Memphis at The University of Houston, Saturday, November 16th

Predictions

Behind the three-headed monster of King, Stevenson, and Carr, the Houston Cougars will have one of the most explosive offenses in all of college football this season. Unfortunately, Houston's play on the defensive side of the ball will remain their Achilles heel throughout 2019. If new head coach Dana Holgorsen can help the Cougars' defense become an above average defensive team, expect Houston to be a serious contender to take home the American Athletic Conference championship this year.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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