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2008 Houston Preview - Offense
Houston QB Case Keenum
Houston QB Case Keenum
Posted Apr 23, 2008 2008 Preview - Houston Cougar Offense

Houston Cougars

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Houston Preview | 2008 Houston Offense
2008 CFN Houston Defense | 2008 Houston Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Houston Preview | 2006 CFN Houston Preview

What you need to know: While there’ll be subtle differences based on personnel, Houston is basically installing the same Texas Tech spread that’s perennially among the nation’s leaders in passing. The first order of business will be to decide between quarterbacks Case Keenum and Blake Joseph, who split time a year ago. Joseph has the stronger arm, but Keenum is more accurate on intermediate routes and moves well outside the pocket, making him a nice fit for Holgorsen’s system. If the offense is going to hum early, the receivers need to step up, putting pressure on last year’s backups L.J. Castile, Tim Monroe, and Chris Gilbert. After missing most of 2006 and 2007 with a knee injury, promising T SirVincent Rogers is a welcome addition to a line that’s replacing Jeff Akeroyd on the right side.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Case Keenum
187-273, 2,259 yds, 14 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Terrance Ganaway
109 carries, 550 yds, 6 TD
Receiving: Mark Hafner
40 catches, 445 yds, 35 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Case Keenum
Players who have to step up and become a star: Sophomore WRs Chaz Rodriguez and L.J. Castile
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman LG Chris Thompson
Best pro prospect: Senior LT SirVincent Rogers
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Senior LT Sebastian Vollmer 2) Rogers 3) Senior WR Mark Hafner
Strength of the offense: Quarterbacks, the offensive line
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at the skill positions, pass protection


Projected Starter: After sharing time a year ago, 6-2, 210-pound sophomore Case Keenum and 6-2, 215-pound junior Blake Joseph are back at it again, going toe-to-toe in the race for the starting quarterback job. Keenum actually earned the lion’s share of the snaps, completing a school-record 68.5% of his passes for 2,259 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 412 yards and nine touchdowns, a distinct advantage in this tight competition.

Joseph, on the other hand, is a more traditional pocket passer with the better fastball, a plus in a system that favors quick reads and even quicker connections. He went 100-of-155 for 1,324 yards, nine touchdowns, and four interceptions in five starts, taking a back seat to Keenum late in the year. The gap, however, was narrowed in the April, as he went 37-of-41 for 421 yards and five touchdowns in a sterling spring game audition. He can help his cause even further by developing more touch on his passes.

Projected Top Reserves: If someone other than Keenum or Joseph throws a pass, it means the Cougars pulled a trick play out of the playbook or someone got injured. Their spots on the two-deep are set in stone. Neither 5-11, 175-pound Austin Elrod nor 6-0, 200-pound sophomore Andrew Stewart, a Texas Lutheran transfer, is considered much more than a camp body at this juncture.

Watch Out For…the starting assignment to go to the more cerebral player. As much as execution matters here, to really be successful in Dana Holgorsen’s system, the quarterback must be able to read defenses and quickly get the ball in the hands of the right receiver. Physical ability alone won’t cut it.
Strength: Two quarterbacks that can start. Assuming both can somehow be kept happy, Houston has multiple quarterbacks with ample experience and the skills to blow up in this offense, a luxury enjoyed by very few programs.
Weakness: Turnovers. Keenum and Joseph had a few more picks last year than the current regime is going to tolerate. If the problem isn’t rectified by an additional year of experience and maturity, the culprit is going to wind spending a lot of time watching from the sidelines.
Outlook: Considering the Cougars are a little over a year removed from the graduation of Kevin Kolb, they’ve made a heck of a rebound at the position. In a system designed to make a star out of the quarterback, both Keenum and Joseph are capable of delivering as the starter. Both will play, but the pecking order isn’t likely to be decided until just before the opener with Southern.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Houston’s tallest order this year will be to replace do-everything Anthony Alridge, one of the fastest and most versatile players in school history. Although the leader coming out of spring was 5-10, 195-pound sophomore Andre Kohn, he won’t be expected to shoulder the load by himself. A slippery back with good hands, he appeared to be a nice fit for an offense looking for even more versatility from the backs. As a reserve last year, he had 28 carries for 146 yards and two touchdowns, adding four catches, including a 67-yard scoring jaunt in the Texas Bowl.

Projected Top Reserves: Right behind Kohn is sophomore Terrance Ganaway, who erupted for 550 yards and six scores on 109 carries as a true freshman. At 6-0 and 220 pounds, he’s a powerful back, yet has unexpected speed and quickness around tackle. He’ll need to do a better job of catching passes out of the backfield, a job requirement for running backs in the new system.

The Cougars’ top option in short yardage could be redshirt freshman Justin Johnson, a 6-1, 233-pound bruiser running third on the depth chart. A former quarterback in high school, he’ll be an interesting change-of-pace, especially when Houston is looking to wear down opposing defenses late in the game.

Watch Out For… the backs to be used like they are at Texas Tech, as additional receivers and occasional runners to catch the defense off guard. There’ll be opportunities to pick up big chunks of yards for Kohn and Ganaway, who’ll usually be running in wide lanes and open areas.
Strength: Talent. When the current No. 2 rushed for 550 yards as a first-year rookie, it’s a flashing signal that there will be life beyond Alridge after all. Kohn and Ganaway are quality backs with bright futures in Houston once they digest their new roles.
Weakness: A sure-thing. Kohn has limited experience and most of Ganaway’s production came in blowouts versus weak opponents. Neither is a lock to move into a feature role without any hitches or blown assignments.
Outlook: Although you don’t get better by losing Alridge’s jets and explosiveness, Houston will land on its feet at the position, thanks to the recent recruiting of former coach Art Briles. Out of Kohn and Ganaway, whoever is the more consistent pass-catcher and pass blocker will earn the majority of the first-team reps.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: Not unlike the situation at running back, Houston is enduring some major hits at wide receiver, parting with last year’s top two players, Jeron Harvey and current St. Louis Ram Donnie Avery. The Cougars will need a slew of receivers to step up if the spread attack is going to click. The one given in the corps is 6-3, 235-pound senior Mark Hafner, the leading returning receiver with 40 catches for 445 yards and three touchdowns. A tight end in the old set, he’s now at Y, a slot receiver lining just outside the right tackle. He has the sure hands and disciplined route-running to catch a ton of passes in his final year.

At the other slot, the H position, redshirt freshman Tyron Carrier is making it difficult to keep him out of the lineup. While only 5-7 and 150 pounds, he’s a member of the Houston track team and is the one player with the jets to help offset the loss of Avery. With space and a chance to hide behind the linemen, he’s capable of taking a short toss and turning it into a long touchdown.

On the outside, sophomore Chaz Rodriguez entered and exited spring as the starter at Z receiver. One of the few receivers with relevant game experience from a year ago, he’s 6-2 and 185 pounds with the speed and burst to be a downfield playmaker.

The Cougars remain hopeful that 6-3, 210-pound sophomore L.J. Castile is ready to capture the other outside opening at X receiver. Arguably the best combination of size and athleticism among the receivers, he’s getting a stiff challenge for the starting job. In his first season since shifting from quarterback, he made seven grabs for 101 yards and a touchdown.

Projected Top Reserves: The veteran among the reserves is 5-8, 170-pound junior Chris Gilbert, a two-time letterwinner who can play either of the slot positions. While he only has nine career catches, he’s a tough, sure-handed receiver who’s not afraid to cross the middle to make a grab.

Battling Castile for the job at Z is redshirt freshman Patrick Edwards. The antithesis of Castile, he’s only 5-9 and 165 pounds, but can fly on post patterns. A track star in high school, he’ll need to become more than just a burner in order to win the job.

If the Cougars opt for size over speed at H receiver, 6-6, 240-pound sophomore Wesley Scourten will get the nod. Built like an agile tight end, he has good hands and is able to box out defenders on the intermediate routes, especially when a first down is needed.

Watch Out For… the depth chart to be fluid throughout the summer and early part of the season. Players got shifted around like chess pieces in April, a sign of things to come on an offense that still isn’t quite sure what the pecking order will look like.
Strength: Diversity. Between well-sized receivers, like Castile and Scourten, and speedsters, such as Carrier and Edwards, there’s a blend of talent that’ll allow the coaches to mix-and-match depending on the situation and the spot of the ball.
Weakness: Proven talent. With the exception of Hafner, who’s still basically a tight end, Houston is extremely thin at wide receiver, returning no one who caught more than seven passes last year.
Outlook: In an offense that could throw the ball 75-80% of the time, somebody is going to put up great numbers in this offense. That won’t, however, guarantee that the receiving corps is lighting it up or doing everything necessary to make the passing game motor. Dropped balls and poor execution could be commonplace in the early stages of the season.
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Four players with starting experience return to an underrated line that’ll be the cornerstone of the offense. The headline is that 6-4, 315-pound senior RT SirVincent Rogers is finally back after missing most of the last two seasons with a serious knee injury. Before going down, he was on the Lombardi and Outland Watch Lists and one of the most physical blockers in Conference USA. He’ll have a lot of catching up to do and a few layers of rust to shake off, but his presence on the right side will surely be felt.

Over at left tackle is senior Sebastian Vollmer, a 6-8, 290-pound product of Germany entering his second season as a full-timer. Finally healthy after battling persistent back problems, he played up to his potential, flashing the long arms, light feet, and upper body strength that could generate NFL interest with another solid year.

In the middle for the second straight year is junior Carl Barnett, an undersized, yet agile, 6-2, 285-pounder who failed to miss a game in 2007. He’s quickly becoming the glue of the line, a heady leader with an explosive first step off the snap.

For a third year in-a-row, 6-2, 295-pound senior Michael Bloesch will be manning right guard. A rugged inside blocker, he’s nasty when he locks on to opposing defensive linemen. One of the hardest workers on the field and in the weight room, he’s an inspirational leader of the unit, even if his career doesn’t extend beyond Houston.

The lone newcomer to the starting lineup is 6-2, 295-pound redshirt freshman LG Chris Thompson. He turned heads throughout the spring, showed outstanding quickness and power for such a young player. He’s the type of lineman Houston will build around once the upperclassmen run out of eligibility.

Projected Top Reserves: Backing up Vollmer at left tackle will be 6-5, 315-pound junior Josh Bell, a transfer from Kansas who earned his first letter with the Cougars a year ago. A former top tight end recruit of the Jayhawks, he has the size, reach, and athleticism to be much more than just a garden variety reserve.

Quality depth at tackle can also be found in 6-6, 310-pound junior Matt Hart, another hulking lineman with 20 games of experience. He’ll be an understudy for one more season before seamlessly sliding into the starting lineup in 2009. Both Hart and Bell are like having front line-caliber players on the B team.

Senior Isaiah Agson has fallen behind Thompson at guard, but represents an excellent option off the bench. He’s a 6-3, 335-pound bulldozer, who has lettered in each of the last two seasons, appearing in 11 games a year ago. Thompson is the future, but if he stumbles, Agson won’t hesitate to move into the huddle.

Watch Out For… Thompson. He’s a walking conundrum, part building block for the future and part stumbling block for the present. The redshirt freshman is a future all-star, but he’s also the rookie on a starting line with three seniors and a junior.
Strength: Experience. The Cougars go two-deep with linemen who have a ton of experience with the program. How many schools can boast a backup at every position who has earned at least one letter?
Weakness: Pass protection. First-time starters at quarterback were part of the problem, but the offensive line also has to be held accountable for allowing 34 sacks a year ago.
Outlook: Even after losing Dustin Dickinson and Jeff Akeroyd to graduation, the Cougars will still have one of the top units in Conference USA. The key will be how quickly—and whether—Rogers can recapture his pre-injury form. If he’s back to being an all-star, Houston will have four solid, veteran blockers to help make the offense go.
Rating: 6.5