2011 Houston Preview – Offense
Houston RB Bryce Beall
Houston RB Bryce Beall
Posted Jun 3, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Houston Cougar Offense

Houston Cougars

Preview 2011 - Offense

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What You Need To Know: Record-setting QB Case Keenum is back, and so is Houston's swagger. The Cougars weren't the same without their Heisman-contending passer after he was injured in September, lacking their customary potency and efficiency. The sixth-year senior will reunite with a number of familiar weapons, like RB Bryce Beall and electrifying receivers Patrick Edwards and Tyron Carrier. Throw in multi-dimensional backs Michael Hayes and Charles Sims, who's expected back from academic suspension, and the attack will be flush with its usual artillery. The biggest roadblock to another season of fireworks will be an offensive line in transition. Three starters have exhausted their eligibility, leaving behind a collection of underclassmen hoping to take their place. If C Chris Thompson and LT Jacolby Ashworth are left to fend for themselves, Houston's rocket-boosted attack could fizzle versus attacking defenses.

Returning Leaders
Passing: David Piland
201-345, 2,641 yds, 24 TDs, 14 INTs
Rushing: Bryce Beall
163 carries, 870 yds, 12 TDs
Receiving: Patrick Edwards
71 catches, 1,100 yds, 13 TDs

Star of the offense: Senior QB Case Keenum
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt freshman RT Rowdy Harper
Unsung star on the rise: Senior RB Michael Hayes
Best pro prospect: Keenum
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Keenum, 2) Senior WR Patrick Edwards, 3) Senior C Chris Thompson
Strength of the offense: The passing attack, skill position players, red zone scoring, balance, quarterback depth
Weakness of the offense: The offensive line, turnovers


State of the Unit: The NCAA spoke in January. The rest of Conference USA shuddered. Record-setting senior Case Keenum was granted a sixth year of eligibility after being lost last September to a torn ACL in Week 3. It was a gift for the Cougars, which struggled after their triggerman went down trying to make a tackle. More than just a prolific passer who has a chance to own every career passing mark, he has the Houston offense down to a science and is one of the team leaders. Blessed with a quick release, pinpoint accuracy, and great feet, he'll begin his bonus year with 13,586 career passing yards, 107 touchdown passes, and 20 rushing scores.

In an odd twist of fate, 6-1, 199-pound senior Cotton Turner was lost for the year in the same game as Keenum, suffering a broken collarbone. A former transfer from Blinn (Tex.) Junior College, he's been an effective backup in two years, going 53-of-71 for 553 yards and five touchdowns. An ideal backstop, he's accurate and has a nice feel for the system. The beneficiary of the injuries? Sophomore David Piland , who went from likely redshirt to improbable starter. While predictably erratic in his first year out of high school, he got an unexpected crash course, finishing 201-of-345 for 2,669 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 14 picks. He's the future at the position.

Watch Out For .... Piland to wind up using his redshirt season this year. Barring another series of unfortunate events, the coaching staff would prefer to keep the sophomore under wraps in 2011, allowing him to learn from the veterans before turning him loose next spring.
Strength: Quality arms. Obviously, Keenum is Keenum, a legit Heisman contender, but he's no longer the only thoroughbred in the stable. The Cougars would have no reservations about inserting Turner or Piland, a pair of players who've already shown that they can succeed in this offense.
Weakness: Durability. This was not an issue until last season, when both the starter and his caddy went down to season-ending injuries in September. The quarterbacks will absorb a fair amount of contact in this offense, and Keenum still needs to prove he hasn't lost a step since the ACL injury.
Outlook: As soon as the NCAA handed down its ruling, Houston could stake its claim to one of the best quarterback situations in the country. The starter is a sixth-year Cougar on the brink of rewriting the record books and the backups are a savvy senior with JUCO experience and a sophomore who threw 24 touchdown passes in 2010. All eyes will be on Keenum as he continues to cement his place in FBS history.
Rating: 9.5

Running Backs

State of the Unit: While the passing game is the undisputed king in Houston, the high-octane aerial attack has consistently opened things up for the ground game. The Cougars have done well to attract multi-dimensional backs, who navigate the wide running lanes and serve as capable receivers out of the backfield. With last year's top three ground-gainers returning, the offense will once again feature a sneaky-good rushing attack.

The focal point out of the backfield will again be 5-11, 215-pound senior Bryce Beall , a tough inside runner and gifted outlet in the passing game. Running with vision and determination, especially in short yardage, he's constantly moving forward and difficult to arm tackle. Despite sharing time and touches a year ago, he rushed for a team-best 870 yards and 12 touchdowns on 163 carries.

The Cougars got a big boost on offense in 2010 from senior Michael Hayes , a transfer from Blinn (Tex.) Junior College. Smaller and shiftier than Beall at 5-9, 195-pound, he brought a spark to the backfield, making people miss and picking up yards after contact. A starter in just three games, he rushed for 629 yards and eight scores on 150 yards, adding 30 catches for 327 yards and two more touchdowns. When Beall was dinged last fall, 5-11, 214-pound junior Chris Wilson picked up some of the slack, running 24 times for 122 yards.

Watch Out For .... the fate of sophomore Charles Sims. When last seen, he was zipping through defenses and earning Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors. In 2009, he rushed for 698 yards, caught 70 passes, and scored 10 times. However, that was before he was declared academically ineligible for the 2010 season. If all goes well, he'll be back in the summer, bolstering an already deep backfield.
Strength: Options. The Cougar staff will have plenty of them, from the power running of Beall to the versatility and quickness of Hayes. If Sims can earn his way back on to the squad, Houston will boast an embarrassment of riches and three very talented weapons.
Weakness: Big plays. While it may be splitting hairs, Houston has had an inability to break off the kind of long runs that quiet a crowd and demoralize an opponent. Runs of more than 25 yards were uncommon, and the backs lack the track speed to get into the open and cruise into the end zone.
Outlook: One of the better-kept secrets in Conference USA, the Cougars will once again be loaded in the backfield. Particularly if Sims returns and picks up where he left off in 2009, Houston will feature a diverse ensemble of backs capable of beating teams on the ground or by sneaking out of the backfield for dump-offs.
Rating: 7.5


State of the Unit: Two starters are gone and two are back, leaving Houston with some rebuilding to do at the all-important receiving corps. While the Cougars don't often attract heralded recruits at the position, they do have a knack for taking good athletes, teaching them the system, and transforming them into exciting playmakers.

The leader on the outside, or "X" receiver is 5-9, 175-pound senior Patrick Edwards , who has gone for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. A former walk-on, with a thicker track resume when he arrived, he has emerged as a consistent receiver and an explosive all-around playmaker. He caught 71 balls for 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns, and is tough to corral in space.

Returning to the slot, or "H" receiver, is 5-8, 170-pound senior Tyron Carrier , a fourth-year starter coming off his quietest season as a Cougar. After delivering back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, he dipped to 53 catches for 480 yards and just a single touchdown. A jackrabbit, with track speed and great cutback moves, he's capable of bouncing back in his final year, especially now that QB Case Keenum has returned to the team.

On the outside, 6-1, 187-pound senior E.J. Smith is the favorite at "Z" receiver. He's earned a letter in each of the last three seasons and is a terrific athlete, but has played sparingly, catching only nine passes for 175 yards and a touchdown last year. Junior Isaiah Sweeney is a 5-9, 170-pound burner, who caught six passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns as a reserve. The Cougars are also banking on support from 6-1, 197-pound junior Chance Blackmon , a former key recruit of Dan Hawkins at Colorado, with tremendous leaping ability. On the inside, the starter at "Y" will be 6-1, 223-pound senior Justin Johnson . A former high school quarterback and college back, he's adapted nicely to his new role. Emulating an H-back and able to shield defenders from the ball, he caught a career-high 16 passes for 240 yards and three scores.

Watch Out For .... Johnson to thrive as a full-time receiver. He's quick and strong, an ideal receiver to excel on slant patterns and quick strikes from Keenum. A versatile athlete, he's capable of settling in at "Y" and taking off in his final year of eligibility.
Strength: Playmakers. Edwards and Carrier, in particular, are the kinds of receivers who will take a short toss, get lost behind the blockers, and explode into daylight. The Cougars are always flush with quality athletes capable of making something out of nothing.
Weakness: Depth. With the departures of James Cleveland and Kierre Johnson, the Cougars not only need a pair of new starters, but also more experience on the second unit. The backups are unproven and untested, which is why receivers, like Blackmon and Sweeney, are so critical in 2011.
Outlook: Keenum will make sure that Edwards and Carrier are well-fed, but will also need to develop some rhythm with other less experienced receivers. It's going be an important offseason for the pass-catchers, who'll have to deliver in order to keep the prolific passing game humming.
Rating: 7.5

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: A top offseason priority between now and the opener will be to solidify an offensive line that's shedding three starters. The staff will be trying a number of different options in order to locate the right combination, including shifting players around and promoting and demoting liberally. Last season's front wall led Conference USA in sacks allowed and blocked for a running game that averaged 4.5 yards a carry.

The one constant is 6-2, 285-pound C Chris Thompson, a first All-Conference USA guard making the move inside to the pivot. A fourth-year starter, he has the head and the feet to make this move work for the offense. A nimble all-around athlete, he's at his best when he can get out of the blocks and into the second level of the D.

The team's other returning starter is 6-4, 300-pound junior LT Jacolby Ashworth , who's been in the lineup since injuring his ankle in the first month of 2009. He has continued to add weight, yet maintained the quickness and light feet needed to seal off the edge. He could be flanked on the right side by 6-6, 285-pound redshirt freshman Rowdy Harper , who has risen ahead of 6-3, 310-pound Ralph Oragwu on the depth chart. Harper has bulked up since arriving and done a nice job of honing his technique. The more decorated Oragwu was coveted by Big 12 schools for his athleticism and low center of gravity, and earned his first letter last year.

The shift of Thompson means the Cougars are looking for two new starting guards. On the left side, 6-4, 315-pound sophomore Ty Cloud is the frontrunner. A powerful blocker, who lettered in 2010, he's at his best when he can maul opponents in a phone booth. Over on the right side, 6-2, 283-pound redshirt freshman Bryce Redman is bucking for a job in his first season of action. An athletic pulling guard, he's added 20 pounds since arriving. In the hunt behind Cloud and Redman are 6-5, 301-pound sophomore Kevin Forsch and 6-3, 320-pound junior DeAnthony Sims , respectively.

Watch Out For .... some intense competition in the summer. Thompson and Ashworth are set at center and left tackle, respectively. However, after that pair, open tryouts will be the name of the game. While the Cougars had leaders at right tackle and the guard spots following spring, no one has padlocked an opening.
Strength: Center. Forget that Thompson was a guard last season. The senior is a pro, a proven blocker who'll instantly turn center into a unit strength. He's versatile, leads by example, and will bring a calming influence to the huddle.
Weakness: The guards. Now that Thompson has taken his relocation package, it's left Houston extremely young and inexperienced to his direct left and right. The new wave of guards, namely Cloud and Redmen, has upside potential, but they might begin to fully realize it until 2012.
Outlook: If the offense is going to hit a speed bump this fall, this Cougar offensive line might be the culprit instead of opposing defenses. The unit must rebuild in a hurry, inserting three new starters into the lineup and hoping they mesh before opening day. Keenum's quick trigger will help support pass protection, but Houston could have a harder time running the ball in 2011.
Rating: 5

- 2011 Houston Preview | 2011 Houston Offense
- 2011 Houston Defense | 2011 Houston Depth Chart
- Houston Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006