Week 1 Preview:  The Bayou Bucket

University of Houston: A Group of 5 school with Power 5 expectations

Major Applewhite has a lot to prove in Year 2. Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

What a time to be alive, people! college football is back.

As the most relevant non-Power 5 school in the nation; the University of Houston may be a Group of 5 school - but it has Power 5 expectations. It wasn’t that long ago that UH was ranked sixth in the nation and winning a Peach Bowl – and clearly, it didn’t take long for the school to get accustomed to the good life. This was made blatantly evident when UH President Renu Khator publicly lit a fire under Major Applewhite’s ass, when she bluntly stated, “At the University of Houston, winning is defined as 10-2. We’ll fire coaches at 8-4.”

With that being said; coming off of a 7-win season and a loss to a Mountain-West School in the Hawaii Bowl; the Houston Cougars have a lot of room for improvement. With pressure mounting from every direction, Applewhite has made some new and controversial additions to his staff:

  • Offensive Coordinator/Associate Head Coach - Kendal Briles.

  • Run-Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach - Randy Clements.

Other notable additions:

  • Safety Coach - Lamar Morgan.

  • Cornerbacks Coach - Paul Williams.

You don’t need me to explain to you who Kendal Briles is, or why adding him (or former Baylor assistant Clements) to the coaching staff has chapped a few asses, but what we can deduct from this is that even though Applewhite is only in the second year of his five-year contract UH demands better than what was produced last year, and he knows it. Now, let me be clear; Kendal Briles was technically not in trouble for what his father did at Baylor – but in the court of public opinion, many find Kendal to be guilty by association. If nothing else, this is a PR hit that not many people, outside of “Mr. IDGAF” – AKA Lane Kiffin – would be willing to take. So, it’s reasonable to assume that the seat is officially hot. This year is going to be interesting, to say the least.

Everything else aside, from a purely football perspective, the addition of Briles to this offense is promising. The Coogs lost quite a few offensive players to the draft and although the remaining squad is athletic, many are also young and relatively inexperienced. But Khator and Tilman Fertitta have made it very clear that they don’t care for excuses; they expect a New Year’s Six appearance. Regardless, for a school who’s 2018 schedule isn’t that impressive (at least not yet…) the Coogs will need to do more than just win their games – they need to score TDs and style points… and that is exactly why Briles was brought in.

What to expect from this offense

  • Expect the run game to be better than last year.
    Duke Catalon is gone (don’t ask why because no one knows) and even though the Coogs are moving to more of an up-tempo/vertical style, this team doesn’t have the luxury of neglecting the run-game. Briles will not have the Devin Singletary-ish type of runner like he had at FAU, however, the Coogs did land a transfer from Baylor – Terence Williams – who had his best season under Briles in 2016 when he rushed for over 1,000 yards. Williams is Baylor’s 13th leading rusher of all time. Expect Williams to bring a veteran presence to the offense and fill a much-needed void at the RB position.

  • Expect the unexpected from the Receiving unit.
    One of the scariest realizations for this offense is that last year’s top 5 receivers are gone:
    Linell Bonner (Ottawa Redbacks – CFB)
    Steven Dunbar (San Fransisco 49r’s)
    John Leday (UFA)
    Duke Catalon (?)
    D’eriq King (obviously now the Quarterback and no longer a Receiver)

Combined, these men accounted for 77% of the targets last year and their absence leaves a ton of uncertainty at that position. But there are three main reasons to be optimistic;

1.) 6’2”/200lbs Junior, Courtney Lark looked to have great chemistry with 
                 King last year, in the four games he started. He played a major part in helping King break out in the Coogs improbable victory over #17 USF; Lark used his big body to make some great blocks for Mulbah Car and, most notably, the 22yd bomb he caught (with about six DBs draped on him) that ultimately set King up for his 11 yard run to win the game with only 11 seconds left. Expect this King – Lark connection to flourish in this new system.

2.) 6’0”/190lbs Junior, Marquez Stevenson has the speed and skill to turn heads; so much so that he had offers from P5 schools like Arizona State, Baylor, Miami, Mississippi State, Missouri, TCU and Utah. However, his talent as a collegiate athlete has been on hold due to injury (2016, broken collarbone & 2017, torn ACL.  Stevenson is finally healthy and claims to be in the best shape he’s ever been in. If he can stay healthy, expect him to be a key target for this offense.

3.) 6’3”/215lbs Raelon Singleton is a graduate transfer from the University of Utah, where he was the teams second leading receiver and put up some impressive stats. He’s a Houston area native and all-around athlete (along with football, he was  a highly awarded basketball and track star at Crosby High.) Singleton is a proven commodity and will be motivated to prove even more playing for his hometown, in his final year of eligibility.

Expect more from D’eriq King.

Houston may have brought in Tennessee graduate transfer, Quenton Dormandy – but make no mistake; this is D’eriq’s team. Think of Quenton more as an insurance policy, if King were to succumb to injury. Regardless of the baggage that follows Coach Briles, one cannot ignore the fact that the man knows how to run an offense and what he’s done with quarterbacks of similar athleticism to King is promising. Briles style is: uptempo / wide gaps in the offensive line / run the ball to set up the pass / spread the defense out using four (or more) fast WRs, from sideline to sideline & simple routes / get the ball out quick. This is, quite possibly, going to be exactly what sends D’eriq King over the top as a passer. 

Week 1 at Rice preview

This Saturday, Houston will play its first game of the season vs. a 1-0 Rice Owls team, in the 31st Bayou Bucket Classic – a tradition that has been going on since 1971. Houston leads the series at 30-11 (and it’s not crazy to think that after this upcoming contest, it’ll be 31-11.)

Ed Oliver and the other Cougar pass-rushers are licking their chops at their chance to take on this undersized Rice offensive line. Rice will really want to keep the ball out of D’eriq King’s hands; so expect them to run the ball as an attempt to limit turnovers, control the clock/time of possession and, in theory, tire the Cougar defense. The Coogs shouldn’t sleep on Rice’s ability to do this either because they are averaging about 6 yards per carry and the best player on their team just so happens to be their RB, Emmanuel Esukpa.

Look, it’s the Bayou Bucket – a rivalry game, therefore, technically anything can happen. But right now, Vegas has Houston favored to win this matchup by 25+ points… and they’re right. Rice doesn’t have anyone to throw the ball to. The Owls will be extremely one-dimensional offensively, allowing Houston to stack the box, daring Rice to pass; in which case, it’ll be a lot of batted down balls and sacks on whichever quarterback they decide to use. Defensively, the Owls decided to go with speed over size – yet they still appear to be lacking in both. Their Linebackers are a group of converted DBs that hardly weigh more than 200 pounds. The Coogs probably don’t want to risk the possibility of King getting injured, so expect Houston to run the ball a lot: first down with Williams and Car in short yardage/goal line situations. It would be an absolute miracle on Rice if they can weasel their way out of this one with a victory… or a complete implosion on Houston’s part, depending on how you want to look at it. Po-tay-to/po-tah-to.

Follow Rachael on Twitter @GameDayOJ