Tom Herman enters his first season as a head coach accustomed to expectations. After winning a national championship as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, he now enters the American Athletic Conference as one of the league’s contenders with Houston. The Cougars has one of the most talented rosters in the league and could be considered the frontrunner if Herman can hit the ground running.
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Previewing Houston’s Offense for 2015
By the end of the spring, new coach Tom Herman did not have a ringing endorsement for his offense: “We’re awful,” he said. “We’re not very good.” That’s to be expected as the Cougars attempt to change the culture of a once high-powered offense that had become stagnant in recent years.
The biggest question is at quarterback, where the competition between incumbent Greg Ward Jr. and Utah transfer Adam Schulz will continue into the fall. Ward went 6–2 after taking over the final eight games, including a 25-point, fourth-quarter comeback over Pittsburgh in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Running back is the most experienced unit on offense with the return of Kenneth Farrow, who rushed for 1,037 yards and led the American Athletic Conference with 15 total touchdowns, and speedster Ryan Jackson. Both are seniors, so the Cougars will need to groom a few young heirs at some point during the season.
The Cougars will be young and inexperienced at receiver because of graduation and the surprising decision of Deontay Greenberry to leave a year early for the NFL Draft. Greenberry had 72 catches last season, more than double any other Cougars receiver. Among returners, only Demarcus Ayers and Steven Dunbar had at least 20 catches. Chance Allen, a transfer from Oregon, should provide immediate help. A rare sighting: The Cougars plan to use a tight end for the first time in eight years, with Tyler McCloskey the leading candidate.
Offensive line is the weak spot, with left tackle Zach Johnson, who is coming off ACL surgery, and right tackle Alex Cooper the only locks to start.
Previewing Houston’s Defense for 2015
The terminology is different, but that’s about the only change as the Cougars plan to roll out the same attacking, hard-hitting, ball-hawking unit that has produced 73 turnovers the past two seasons. New co-coordinator Todd Orlando, who was hired from Utah State, will switch to a 3-4 scheme that mixes up looks and brings pressure from all angles.
The strength is a secondary that returns all four starters, including Adrian McDonald and Trevon Stewart at safety and William Jackson, a shutdown cornerback drawing some NFL Draft buzz.
Defensive end B.J. Singleton is the only returner on the line. He’ll be joined by defensive tackle Nick Thurman and end Cameron Malveaux, who were impressive in the spring but have combined to start only one game.
Steven Taylor, coming off a breakout season with four sacks and nine tackles for a loss, could be next in a line of great linebackers at the school following the graduation of Derrick Mathews and Efrem Oliphant. With the shift in schemes, Tyus Bowser will be used in a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end role.
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Previewing Houston’s Specialists for 2015
A big improvement is needed in the return game, after the Cougars ranked among the bottom half in the AAC in both punt and kickoff returns. Ayers and Stewart are candidates to handle punts, while Herman would like to use a bigger body, such as Ryan Jackson, on kickoffs. Kyle Bullard tied for third in conference with 16 field goals, while punter Logan Piper showed improvement in the spring.
A first-time head coach, Herman brings credibility after winning a national title as the offensive coordinator at Ohio State. He’s spent the first several months on the job instilling a toughness that had been lacking in recent years. The Cougars have enough talent to compete in the AAC but will need to figure things out on the offensive line and develop across-the-board depth. A ninth bowl appearance in the last 11 years is certainly within reach.