2010 Houston Preview – Offense
Houston WR James Cleveland
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Houston Cougar Offense
Preview 2010 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Coordinator Dana Holgorsen has left Houston for Oklahoma State, creating an internal promotion for Jason Phillips. However, nothing will change with this rocket-boosted attack. After flirting with the NFL, QB Case Keenum is back and ready to continue his assault on the NCAA record books. He's the point guard of a Cougar offense that led the country in scoring, passing, and total offense a year ago. And he'll once again be surrounded by gobs of speedy skill position talent, like versatile back Bryce Beall, and receivers James Cleveland, Tyron Carrier, and Patrick Edwards. If there are any concerns about keeping this train on the tracks, they're up front, where a decent line lost C Carl Barnett to graduation and all-star RT Jarve Dean to a suspension.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Case Keenum
Passing: Case Keenum
492-700, 5,671 yds, 44 TDs, 15 INTs
Rushing: Charles Sims
132 carries, 698 yds, 9 TDs
Receiving: James Cleveland
104 catches, 1,214 yds, 14 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior RT Roy Watts
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OT Jacolby Ashworth
Best pro prospect: Senior WR James Cleveland
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Keenum, 2) Cleveland, 3) Junior WR Tyron Carrier
Strength of the offense: The passing attack, skill position players, red zone scoring
Weakness of the offense: The offensive line, turnovers
Projected Starter: After three prolific seasons as the rifleman for the high-powered Cougar offense, 6-2, 210-pound senior Case Keenum is one healthy year away from smashing all kinds of NCAA passing marks. A reigning All-American, who joined Texas Tech's Graham Harrell as the only players to have multiple 5,000-yard seasons, he completed 492-of-700 passes for 5,671 yards, 44 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. An ideal fit for this Houston attack, he has a quick trigger, excellent feet, and a great feel for the pocket and the system. He did, however, finish the year by throwing nine interceptions in back-to-back losses to East Carolina and Air Force, which could linger in the minds of some national award voters.
Projected Top Reserves: For the second straight, 6-1, 199-pound junior Cotton Turner will be back the backstop for Keenum. A former transfer from Blinn (Tex.) Junior College, he appeared in four games, going 30-of-40 for 373 yards and three touchdowns. Although he has modest arm strength, he's a good match for the Cougars, throwing an accurate ball and gaining a firm grasp on the system in his first year.
Only in an emergency will Houston reach for its third-stringer, so this will be more about determining a pecking order for once Keenum has graduated. While the least experienced of the group, it'll be worth keeping an eye on 6-3, 210-pound redshirt freshman Drew Hollingshead . He has the arm strength to fit the ball into a tight window, and played his entire high school career throwing out of the shotgun.
Watch Out For .... Keenum's frame of mind when the season begins. After cruising through the first dozen games, he hit a speed bump in the final two, which can't have a lingering effect. It's not going to matter in the first two games, but by the Week 3 trip to Pasadena, he cannot be dwelling on how 2009 concluded.
Strength: Keenum. Would he fit every program's system? Doubtful. In Houston, however, he's a hand-in-glove match for an offense that likes to spread the ball around and asks its quarterbacks to be nimble. He's got enough zip on his passes to make all the throws, and knows the complex system as well as the coaches.
Weakness: Proven depth. Heck, if Keenum remains durable, this will never become a concern. However, he's not huge and likes to tuck and run, so you never know when that one awkward hit is going to force Turner into the spotlight and the huddle. The only drawback to the Keenum's reliability is that no one else has been able to get any valuable reps.
Outlook: One by one, the records are going to fall, as Keenum turns his final season into a victory lap through Conference USA. Barring the obvious, an injury, he'll again pile up huge numbers at the expense of toothless defenses and contend for All-America honors. Getting to another level, such as winning the Heisman, will depend on how well he plays against UCLA, Mississippi State, and Texas Tech at the end of November.
Projected Starter: For a team whose identity is rooted so deeply in the pass, Houston has had success with its backs, spitting out back-to-back Conference USA Freshmen of the Year. Unfortunately, last year's edition, Charles Sims, has been ruled academically ineligible. That means junior Bryce Beall, who copped the honor in 2008, will have an expanded role after sharing duties a year ago. At 5-11 and 209 pounds, he's the bigger and more physical of the two backs, yet also has the soft hands and great vision to be fully functional in this offense. In a more complimentary role than his debut, he ran for 670 yards and seven touchdowns on 139 carries, adding 32 carries for 311 yards and three touchdowns.
Projected Top Reserves: Looking for more snaps, especially now that Sims is not available, is 5-11, 214-pound sophomore Chris Wilson. He played sparingly in his debut, carrying 24 times for 105 yards in 12 games, but possesses the size-speed combo to get more looks in the upcoming season.
Injuries have kept 5-11, 207-pound senior Andre Kohn from reaching his full potential, including a knee injury that shelved him for all of 2009. There was a time when he was being groomed as the feature runner in Houston, but he has just more year left and growing competition blocking much chance for a rebound.
Watch Out For .... Beall to pick up where he left off in 2008. Losing touches and snaps a year ago really impacted his rhythm and ultimately his production. However, it's important not to forget that when he was the focus out of the backfield as a freshman, he rushed for 1,247 yards, caught 34 passes, and scored 17 times.
Strength: Hands. Hey, if you're going to participate in this offense, regardless of where you line up, you better be able to contribute to the passing game. The Cougar backs, particularly Beall, have proven to be up to the challenge in recent years. As a group, they caught well over 100 passes in 2009, a number they'll try to duplicate this season.
Weakness: Long runs. It's splitting hairs on a talented group, but the Cougars didn't break off as many long scampers as they'd have liked in 2009. In fact, Sims had the biggest gainer among the backs, a 31-yarder that belied the unit's big-play potential.
Outlook: Houston uses all of its runners like third-down backs, asking them to pass protect and run a lot of routes in the passing game. And it works for what the team is trying to accomplish. Sims and Beall formed an ideal tandem for the Cougars, but now that the former is ineligible, the latter should see a sudden spike in his production and importance to the attack.
Projected Starters: The Cougars became just the fourth team in NCAA to have three 1,000-yard receivers last season. All three are back for another year, troubling news for the rest of Conference USA. Senior James Cleveland wasted no time becoming Case Keenum's preferred target, finishing sixth nationally with 104 catches for 1,214 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first year out of Trinity Valley (Tex.) Community College. The 6-2, 205-pound former Iowa recruit is a physical receiver, with big mitts to pluck the ball and enough toughness to play through a torn labrum in 2009.
Lining up on the outside at "X" receiver is 5-9, 175-pound junior Patrick Edwards , who recovered from a terrible leg injury in his first year to catch 85 passes for 1,021 yards and six touchdowns. A one-time walk-on, with a bigger track resume when he arrived, he's emerging into a consistent receiver and an explosive all-around playmaker. While he can still have problems beating the jam, when he gets into space, it's tough to track him down.
In the slot, at "H" receiver, 5-8, 163-pound junior Tyron Carrier is a jackrabbit, boasting track speed and the cutback moves to make defenders whiff in the open field. Like Sims at running back, the Cougars are content to simply get him the ball and then let him find the creases in the defense. Aside from being an incendiary return man on special teams, he also caught 91 passes for 1,029 yards and seven touchdowns, adding 10 carries for 125 yards and another score.
Topping off the corps at "Z" receiver is junior E.J. Smith. He' coming off his most productive year as a Cougar, earning his second letter and making 10 catches for 126 yards as a reserve on the outside. At 6-1 and 187 pounds, he possesses a nice blend of length, speed, and wiggle in the open field.
Projected Top Reserves: Providing competition to Smith at "Z" is 5-10, 170-pound senior Kierrie Johnson. Two years removed from a stint at Blinn (Tex.) Junior College, he suffered a dip in production last year, catching just 16 catches for 237 yards and a touchdown. A less explosive version of Edwards, he's another glider, who can pick up big chunks of yards after the catch.
Houston's version of a short-yardage back, 6-1, 223-pound junior Justin Johnson is now backing up Carrier in the slot. A former high school quarterback, he's actually trimmed some weight in the offseason in an attempt to improve his speed and quickness. He logged 18 carries for 84 yards and two scores, while serving as the Cougars' best blocking back in 2009. Now, he'll be catching passes, trying to create mismatches, and providing a very different look for Case Keenum.
Last year, Cleveland turned into a gift from a major conference. Sophomore Chance Blackmon will be looking to channel him this fall. Originally a member of Dan Hawkins' team at Colorado, he transferred closer to home, where brother Carson was wrapping up his Cougar career. A 6-1, 197-pounder, he'll climb the tree to make plays and could immediately get in the rotation on the outside.
Watch Out For .... Blackmon. Even if the starting four is set in stone, there are plenty of balls to go around in this offensive system. Blackmon is a unique physical specimen, who has a 38-inch vertical and a better feel for the playbook after sitting out last year. If Johnson doesn't raise the level of his game, backup "Z" receiver could be up for grabs in the summer.
Strength: Front-line talent. One returning all-star is a blessing. Three is an embarrassment of riches. By retaining Cleveland, Carrier, and Edwards, Houston can challenge any opponent horizontally and vertically. If one receiver is having a rough day, there are at least two others able to pick up the slack.
Weakness: Yards after the catch. Sure, this is an offense that relies on a ton of short slants, but at 11.6 yards a reception, Houston ranked just seventh in Conference USA. A few more dashes into the secondary and broken tackles will make this attack even more potent than it was last season.
Outlook: Two years ago, Houston was putting out APBs for quality receivers to catch Keenum's darts. Today, through good recruiting and player development, the staff has cobbled together one of the most dangerous pass-catching ensembles in America. It can beat you in a number of different ways, and in Cleveland, now has a legitimate next-level player running routes.
Projected Starters: Houston was supposed to be welcoming back four starters up front. That, however, was before all-star Jarve Dean was dismissed in March, leaving the Cougars with a cavernous hole at right tackle. When Dean got booted, 6-6, 315-pound senior Roy Wattswas next on the depth chart, returning for his second season as a regular. A former Texas Longhorn and JUCO transfer, he broke into the lineup when injuries struck in 2009 and started the final nine games. While still raw and in need of better footwork, he has the sheer size and strength to overpower smaller opponents.
Sophomore Jacolby Ashworth was a starter at left tackle for the first four games of 2009 before an ankle injury prematurely ended his season. The early thought was to move him to left guard, though Dean's dismissal has him staying put in order to protect Case Keenum's blindside. He's beefed up nicely to 6-4 and 290 pounds, yet maintained the quickness and sharp technique that first got him noticed by the coaching staff.
With long-time starter Carl Barnett graduating, Houston has a hole at center that needs to be filled. For now, the staff is turning to 6-3, 280-pound senior Jordan Shoemaker , who's making the shift inside from guard. A steady performer over the last two seasons, with good quickness out of his stance, his biggest challenge will be perfecting the snap out of the shotgun.
The team's most experienced guard, and arguably its best lineman, is 6-2, 285-pound junior Chris Thompson . One of just 10 players to start all 14 games, he followed up a Conference USA All-Freshman debut by earning All-Conference USA honorable mention recognition in 2009. A versatile blocker, he's best suited on the inside, where he can pull on running downs and hold his ground in pass protection.
How desperate is Houston to bolster its depth and overall talent along the offensive line? It's relocating senior Isaiah Thompson, a veteran of 24 starts and 47 tackles a year ago, to the other side of the ball. At 6-4 and 300 pounds, he has the right size and enough football IQ to make this experiment work at left guard work.
Projected Top Reserves: If Ashworth winds up packing his bags again, 6-4, 288-pound senior Jaryd Anderson could end up with a starting assignment at left tackle, where he's currently the backup. The most experienced of the reserves, he has a pair of letters and even started four games midway through last year.
Redshirt freshman Ty Cloud is one of the young guards, who could figure prominently in the rotation in his first season of eligibility. At 6-4 and 315 pounds, he's already physically prepared for action, doing his best work when he can latch on to an opposing lineman and drive him off the play.
6-3, 285-pound Ralph Oragwu is next on the depth chart at right tackle, though he'll have to earn this spot in order to prevent others from shifting around. Pursued by Big 12 schools coming out of high school, he's built more like a guard, but has the athleticism and quick feet to eventually become a terrific pass protector.
Watch Out For .... the juggling to continue throughout the summer. The staff did a lot of experimenting here in the spring in an attempt to find the right combination. It's not quite done, which will be evident right up until the opener.
Strength: Pass protection. Yes, Case Keenum gets a lot of credit for getting the ball out of his hand in the shortest time possible. Still, the Cougars did a nice job of pass protecting a year ago, allowing just over one sack a game, and recruit the type of athletes who typically excel in pocket protection.
Weakness: Depth. This might have been an issue even before Dean was released. Without their projected starting tackle, the Cougars must dig deep and possibly reshuffle the deck in order to come up with a workable depth chart. First-year players could play a key role, especially if the inevitable injuries crop up.
Outlook: Houston unexpectedly lost its best player from a unit that really needed his presence up front. This could be an area of concern, though Keenum's presence in the pocket, quick feet, and even quick release have a way of making everyone in the trenches look a little better.
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