2014 Houston Preview: What You Need To Know
Houston WR Deontay Greenberry
Houston WR Deontay Greenberry
Posted Jul 20, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Houston (Getty Images)

2014 Houston Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 Houston Preview  
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Houston has a new coordinator, Travis Bush, who was promoted after Doug Meacham left for TCU. The coach’s goal will be to get his young kids to play with more consistency after failing to click late in 2013 against the better teams on the schedule. With Bush comes a new philosophy. He prefers that his attack has no labels, such as Air Raid. He wants his offense to simply take what the defense gives, meaning the mode of transportation could change on a week-to-week basis. What won’t change is the point man, QB John O’Korn, who engineered an outstanding debut with 28 touchdown passes. The sophomore will get plenty of help from next-level WR Deontay Greenberry and the one-two punch of Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow out of the backfield. Bush also has high hopes for converted QB Greg Ward, who’ll be a jack-of-all-trades, and former USC WR Markeith Ambles, who finished his Cougar debut on a high note. The best way to slow down Houston in 2014 is by winning the line of scrimmage. It’s breaking in two new starters, three if Zach Johnson can’t return from a spring ACL injury.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: Coordinator David Gibbs couldn’t have been more revelatory in his first season since leaving the Houston Texans. He inherited a mess, yet somehow molded it into one of the most disruptive units in the American. The Cougars became tougher under Gibbs, without sacrificing any of their attacking mindset. The results? More turnovers than any team in the FBS, and just 22 points per game allowed. Beware, American, because Houston might be even nastier in 2014. Gibbs has to address the situation at cornerback, which will involve two new starters. Everywhere else, though, the D is in great shape. The line is deep, spearheaded by underrated DT Joey Mbu. The linebackers are some of the best athletes on the roster. And the safety tandem of Trevon Stewart and Adrian McDonald is a turnover waiting to happen. With a full season of Gibbs’ philosophy now in the memory bank, the Cougars are poised to wreak havoc on lumbering offenses all season long.

Players You Need To Know

1. WR Deontay Greenberry, Jr.
So far, Greenberry has lived up to his hype, when he was one of the most coveted high school receivers of 2012. The Fresno, Calif. native has started in each of his first two seasons, erupting last year for 82 receptions for 1,202 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 19 catches for at least 20 yards ranked 18th in the country. He took his game to a new level, forging a bond with rookie QB John O’Korn that grew throughout the season. Similar growth from Greenberry will have him seriously considering a jump to the NFL at the end of his junior season.

2. FS Trevon Stewart, Jr.
Stewart is off and running with a career that’s about to start getting more recognition nationally. Sure, he earned Second Team All-American Athletic Conference in 2013. But most of the country is unaware of him. Too bad. Stewart operates with maximum energy, intensity and confidence, flying all over the field with reckless abandon. Think Tyrann Mathieu, another Louisiana native. Stewart led the country with 10 turnovers last season, making 109 tackles, four interceptions, six fumble recoveries and seven pass breakups.

3. LB Derrick Mathews, Sr.
Mathews is the Cougars’ heat-seeking missile on defense. He’s been a steady force from the moment he stepped foot on campus, starting all 39 games of his career, and never making fewer than 100 tackles in a season. In 2013, he racked up 116 stops, a dozen tackles for loss, a team-high seven sacks and two fumble recoveries. An atypical middle linebacker at 6-0 and 210 pounds, Mathews excels with his range and closing speed. He’s an instinctive and fundamentally-sound open field tackler, with a knack for blowing up the other guy’s offensive gameplan.

4. QB John O’Korn, Soph.
The quarterback of the future in Houston became the quarterback of now in 2013. Thrust into a starting role after David Piland suffered a career-ending concussion in September, the 6-4, 205-pound O’Korn thrived in his debut out of St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High School. The American Athletic Conference’s Rookie of the Year started the final 11 games to finish 259-of-446 for 3,117 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 picks. O’Korn throws with great touch on his passes, and his poise and pocket awareness are off the charts for such a young player. And he’s just getting started in his development.

5. LB Efrem Oliphant, Sr.
Oliphant’s ascent last season was shocking, even to those close to the program. He redshirted in 2011, played sparingly in 2012 and was buried on the depth chart as recently as last offseason. Yet, when his opportunity arose on the outside he seized it by making a Cougar-best 134 tackles, 13 stops for minus yards, 2.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. With renewed confidence in 2013, Oliphant flew around the field down the stretch to notch at least 10 tackles in five of the final six games.

6. SS Adrian McDonald, Jr.
McDonald is a ball-hawk out of the secondary. It’s no wonder he’s fitting in so well on the Houston defense. The 5-10, 191-pounder rose to the level of the competition in his first season as a full-timer, setting the stage for an all-star second-half to his Cougar career. He did a little bit of everything in 2013, amassing 99 tackles as well as a league-high six interceptions. For such a young player, McDonald exhibited advanced instincts and field awareness throughout the year.

7. DT Joey Mbu, Sr.
Most of the country hasn’t seen Mbu play. But pro scouts have started to pay attention to the third-year starter. Mbu is a classic blue-collar run-stuffer, an interior lineman whose work is appreciated more on film than by a box score. The stout 6-3, 312-pound senior helped clog running lanes for a Cougar D that ranked No. 19 nationally in yards per carry allowed last season. Mbu will never get the credit he deserves, but he helps anchor an underrated defensive unit in Houston.

8. LB Steve Taylor, Soph.
The Cougars keep cranking out active, productive linebackers. Without a lot of warning, Taylor has quickly emerged as one of the young cornerstones on defense from the second level. Despite starting only nine games as a rookie, he ended up fifth on the team with 89 tackles to go along with 10.5 stops for loss, three sacks and five pass breakups. Safety-sized at 6-0 and 211 pounds, Taylor plays at a frenetic pace, covering plenty of ground blitzing and blanketing backs and receivers in the passing game.

9. WR Daniel Spencer, Sr.
When the Cougars want to work the seams of the defense, they’ll often look for No. 4, Spencer, out of the slot. The senior is a polished all-around receiver, with some of the best hands and route-running skills on the team. And when he gets a step on a defensive back, he doesn’t get caught. The 5-11, 195-pound Spencer brings 105 career receptions into his final year, capped by a personal-best 52 receptions for 768 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. In many ways, he’s an ideal complement to star “Y” receiver Deontay Greenberry.

10. C Bryce Redman, Sr.
The coaching staff really appreciates what Redman brings to the offense. He’s Mr. Reliable for the Cougars, starting 19 straight games at center. While only 6-1 and 285 pounds, 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 has never looked back. In 2013, Redman led the team’s linemen with 989 snaps and 41 knockdown blocks, though he’s looking to clean up his snaps and cut down on his penalties.

11. OL Rowdy Harper, Sr.
Harper is the most experienced—and versatile—member of the Cougar O-line. His 39 career starts are comprised of stints at left guard, left tackle and right tackle. Short of snapping the ball, the staff is confident he can handle any position up front. The 6-6, 295-pound Harper wasn’t quite the same blocker last season after injuring his knee in the early going. Healthy again, though, he’s ready to protect the pocket from wherever he lines up.

12. RB Ryan Jackson, Jr.
For a pass-first offense, the Cougars have a number of unique options out of the backfield. Jackson is the slippery scatback, who can hurt defenses in myriad ways. Sure, he came off the bench to lead the team with 661 rushing yards and six scores on 139 carries. But he also caught 27 passes for 296 yards and two more touchdowns. The 5-10, 183-pounder does a nice job of setting up his blocks, patiently waiting behind his linemen before darting through traffic. Jackson is the flash in the thunder and lightning tandem with teammate Kenneth Farrow.

13. RB Kenneth Farrow, Jr.
Farrow is the muscle of the Cougar backfield tandem, softening defenses before Ryan Jackson gashes them. Farrow started all 11 games he played in last season, finishing second on the team with 514 yards and six touchdowns on 103 carries. The 5-11, 216-pound thumper displayed soft hands out of the backfield as well with24 catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. Since Farrow excels at picking up yards after contact, he’s Houston’s preferred choice in short-yardage situations.

14. DE Trevor Harris, Sr.
Harris paid instant dividends in his first year out of ASA (NY) College. He started nine games at the stand-up end position, making 49 tackles, tops among linemen, 8.5 stops for loss and 3.5 sacks. Despite sharing reps in a rotation that included Eric Eiland and explosive rookie Tyus Bowser, Harris was able to make his presence felt both as a pass rusher and a run defender. At 6-5 and 233 pounds, the former high school receiver has the length and the quickness to complement strongside end Eric Braswell.

- 2014 Houston Preview