2013 Houston Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Houston Cougar Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Don't expect major changes in philosophy now that Doug Meacham has been lured away from Oklahoma State, where he was the passing game coordinator of one of college football's most potent aerial attacks. Meacham was brought aboard by head coach Tony Levine to tweak and fine-tune a system that has the parts for success, but just lacks the execution. A year ago, for instance, Houston was 15th nationally in total offense, yet only 38th in total scoring. The problems? The Cougars turned the ball over way too much, and persistently stalled in the red zone. The fulcrum for the system will be junior QB David Piland, whose No. 88 pass efficiency rating will get him benched if he doesn't improve this fall. The supporting cast will not be a problem. Houston harbors terrific skill players, such as RB Charles Sims and WR Deontay Greenberry, and a stout O-line losing just one starter. The Cougs are close to being really, really explosive again, but first need to start paying better attention to detail.
Star of the offense: Senior RB Charles Sims
Passing: David Piland
256-448, 2,924 yds, 16 TDs, 12 INTs
Rushing: Charles Sims
142 carries, 851 yds, 11 TDs
Receiving: Dewayne Peace
54 catches, 603 yds, 2 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB David Piland
Unsung star on the rise: Junior C Bryce Redman
Best pro prospect: Sims
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sims, 2) Sophomore WR Deontay Greenberry, 3) Junior LT Rowdy Harper
Strength of the offense: Running backs, receivers, veteran O-line
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback inconsistency, turnovers, red-zone efficiency
Last season was a rough one for David Piland , who became a microcosm for the program's overall struggles. Instead of lessening the blow of Case Keenum's graduation, the junior wound up showcasing just how much No. 7 was missed behind center. Sure, Piland didn't get enough help from his receivers or his linemen, but 256-of-448 for 2,944 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 picks just isn't going to hack it in this fast-paced attack. Now that he's entering his third year as the starter—and gets all of his best weapons back—it's incumbent upon the 6-3, 192-pound to play with a much higher degree of consistency this fall.
Lurking not far behind Piland is 6-1, 200-pound sophomore Bram Kohlhausen . The former three-star recruit, with the live arm, is a good fit for this quick-hitting passing game, but just needs more live reps. He appeared in three games last year, completing 4-of-9 for 31 yards and a couple of picks.
Watch Out For .... the coaching staff to anoint Piland, but not until after he gets challenged by a whole new set of contenders in the summer. True freshman John O'Korn and JUCO transfer Billy Cosh will be given a chance to unseat the incumbent. O'Korn was a three-star performer who had offers from Wisconsin, North Carolina and Louisville.
Strength: Starting experience. It's a luxury at this level to have a player with starts on his resume. Piland is one of those guys. In fact, he has two seasons of starting experience, 2010 and 2012, and his grip on the playbook is as good as it's ever been. The coordinators have changed in Houston, but Piland has a chance to become a fixture that the offense needs.
Weakness: Decision-making. Piland has the necessary physical tools to turn things around, but only if his reads and his decisions improve. His accuracy was among the lowest in Conference USA, and he and his teammates threw 20 interceptions, which was 119th in the country.
Outlook: The Cougars need to see an evolved Piland this fall, or else his tenure as the starting quarterback could be over. He'll have a pretty good chance to get past the issues of 2012 now that he has two years of relevant experience, and most of last year's top targets are back. Houston is a quarterback-driven program, so the hook could be quick for whoever gets on stage.
Of all of the individual imports heading from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference this season, few figure to make a bigger splash than Charles Sims, a hidden gem since arriving in Houston in 2009. The all-purpose playmaker is a former Conference USA Freshman of the Year and two-time All-Conference USA pick, hurting defenses with his feet and his hands. Last season, despite missing all or part of six games, Sims rushed for a Cougars-high 851 yards and 11 scores on 142 carries, chipping in another three touchdowns and 373 yards on 37 catches. At 6-0 and 213 pounds, he has the size and strength to work between the tackles, yet his quick feet and sharp cuts make him a dangerous big-play threat.
Not to be forgotten, the program really likes its backups, namely sophomore Kenneth Farrow . In just his first season, he was second the team with 466 yards and two touchdowns on 86 carries, adding 20 catches for 165 yards and a score. The 5-11, 206-pounder is a rugged, powerful runner and one the smartest players on the offense.
For a little wiggle and change-of-pace, the offense can turn to sophomore Ryan Jackson . Still undersized at 5-10 and 175 pounds, he relies on his quickness, speed and balance to make plays outside the tackles. He'll also benefit from last year's reps, which produced 252 yards and three scores on 59 carries, and 102 yards and a touchdown on 13 receptions.
Watch Out For .... Sims to shed some anonymity now that he's playing in a more visible league. The senior is a terrific all-around weapon, operating as if he's channeling former Oklahoma star DeMarco Murray. If he can make it through an entire year without getting dinged, he has a very good shot of being an NFL target in 2014.
Strength: Depth and versatility. Sims will do a little bit of everything for the Houston offense, including picking up blitzes to protect David Piland. Farrow can be a feature back if needed. And Jackson is a very nice add-on as a third-down back. The Cougars have options out of the backfield.
Weakness: Durability. The Houston offense is at its best when Sims is running at full strength. Unfortunately, he's had a history of getting banged up and occasionally missing time. He's well north of 200 pounds, yet sometimes exhibits the sturdiness of a much smaller player.
Outlook: There's plenty to like about the Houston backfield heading into 2013. The multi-dimensional Sims has next-level qualities, Farrow has proven he's ready for an expanded role and Jackson is an ideal No. 3. This will be a very busy group in the fall, both as traditional runners and as tools of the passing game.
All but two of Houston's top 11 receivers from a year ago are still on campus. There's a sense that second-year standout Deontay Greenberry could bloom into the best of the bunch later this year. He arrived last year as a five-star gem, the most decorated in school history, who turned down Notre Dame to become a Cougar. And while consistency must be achieved, he put down a solid ground floor with 47 catches for 569 yards and three touchdowns. At 6-3 and 193 pounds, he has good size to go along with explosive athleticism, strong hands and the leaping ability to excel in the red zone. The fearless Greenberry is shifting inside to the "Y" position, where he's expected to post huge numbers.
The Cougars' other rookie from 2012 entering his second year is sophomore Larry McDuffey who is moving from an inside spot to the outside "X" receiver. The 5-10, 163-pounder is one of the fastest players on the roster, a former prep sprinter who'll be used to stretch the field. Despite only starting four games, and missing three, McDuffey still debuted with 28 catches for 382 yards and a team-best four touchdown catches.
Forming a bookend with McDuffey on the outside will be the veteran of the group, senior "Z" receiver Dewayne Peace . The one-time Michigan recruit and Blinn (Tex.) College transfer kicked off his Cougars career by catching a team-high 54 balls for 603 yards and two scores, despite missing three games. The 5-11, 186-pounder doesn't have McDuffey's jets, but he's plenty quick enough to beat defenders to the open spot on the field.
Rounding out the starting unit from the slot will be junior "H" receiver Daniel Spencer , an underrated playmaker. The 5-11, 189-pounder has terrific hands and ball skills, pulling down 41 balls for 579 yards and three touchdowns. With Greenberry attracting so much attention from the other side, Spencer should get lots of chances to secure quick throws and take off with them.
The wild card of an already deep and talented corps of receivers is Markeith Ambles , the former blue-chip recruit of USC. The junior has two years of eligibility remaining and a burning desire to get his career back on track. He has the physical skill set to assimilate very quickly in this offense, but needs to be mentally focused on the task at hand as well.
Watch Out For .... Greenberry to bloom into a legitimate star, especially now that he's moving inside. Coordinator Doug Meacham had Justin Blackmon at Oklahoma State, and sees similarities between his two pupils. With proper support from the quarterback position, Greenberry is capable of amassing household name-type numbers, largely on crossing patterns.
Strength: Talent. The Cougars were young and inexperienced here a season ago, but not anymore. The group is a year older and far better prepared to excel within the passing game. Houston is talented and dangerous on the inside and the outside, and the addition of Ambles could be a major bonus if he's ready to rock right out of the gate.
Weakness: Consistency. The receivers are going to be better than in 2012, but still have plenty of room for growth. Last season, the group dropped too many balls, ran sloppy routes and generally didn't always help the quarterbacks. The goal will be to tighten up in all areas, relying less on pure physicality and more on sound fundamentals.
Outlook: Houston planted seeds at wide receiver a year ago. This season, it'll watch its young weapons bloom. Greenberry, McDuffey and Peace are no longer first-year Cougars, and Spencer is an underrated complement. If Ambles even approaches his potential, Houston could challenge Louisville for the league's most potent receiver corps.
Seven Cougars started along the O-line in 2012; six return, with 92 career starts on the resume. Arguably the best of the front wall will be 6-6, 299-pound junior Rowdy Harper who is coming off a successful first season as the starting left tackle. He didn't miss a beat for a unit that ranked second in Conference USA sacks allowed, and has now started 26 career games. The former three-star recruit is tough and well-skilled in pass protection, the kind of blocker who could start attracting more attention this year.
The school's right tackle will be 6-3, 318-pound senior Ralph Oragwu , an athletic blocker in the body of a guard. After starting 10 games in 2012, missing two to injury, the second-year starter ought to be in a much better position to contribute on a consistent basis for the offense.
Next to Harper at left guard will be powerful senior Ty Cloud, a north-south wrecking ball on running plays. The durable and hard-working 6-4, 335-pounder has started the Cougars' last 26 games, bringing his strength and his tenacity to the interior of the O-line.
Manning right guard for a final year is 6-3, 308-pound senior Kevin Forsch , who's returning to his old position after starting five games at center in 2012. The honorable mention All-Conference USA selection in 2011 is steady performer, with loads of experience and a good feel for the cerebral side of the game.
The staff really likes what junior C Bryce Redman brings to the middle of the line. He's energetic, plays to the whistle and generally brings a positive presence to the offensive line. The gym rat took over at the pivot in the third game of 2012 and never looked back, earning honorable mention All-Conference USA recognition.
Five Cougars backups earned letters last season, 6-6, 305-pound RT Zach Johnson , 6-1, 285-pound junior Austin Lunsford , 6-5, 318-pound senior G Josh McNeill and 6-5, 330-pound senior RG Emeka Okafor and DeAnthony Sims . Sims actually started three games at tackle a year ago.
Watch Out For .... Redman to continue to surge into one of the line's emotional leaders. No. 58 may not look like a snot-knocking blocker, but he possesses the kinds of intangibles that make both him and those around him much better. He's one of the sparkplugs of this group.
Strength: Chemistry. These Cougars have been together for a while. And it's begun to show. They trust one another and share an unspoken language, some of the unseen trappings that result from knowing the tendencies and the strengths of the man next to you. It'll never show up in a box score, but this Houston line works real well together.
Weakness: Technique. The Cougars are absolutely spending this offseason working on their footwork and their fundamentals. But there's room for growth. The linemen can be a little stiff and inconsistent at times, which won't be costly against mediocre pass rushes, but could be detrimental to the quarterback's health when facing aggressive ends and outside linebackers.
Outlook: This is not a flashy O-line. However, it is experienced, cohesive and effective. In short, the front wall will be an asset to the rest of the offense as it prepares to do battle with American Athletic Conference defenses. The maturation of Redman combined with the veteran leadership of Harper, Forsch and Cloud gives Houston a blue-collar crew that will again hold up well in run blocking and pass protection.
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