5 Things We Learned in Houston's 52-24 Win over Tennessee Tech
The Tom Herman era officially began at Houston over the weekend with a 52-24 win over Tennessee Tech at TDECU Stadium in Houston.
Junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. led the Cougar offense by completing 22 of 27 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown. The fleet-footed Ward also rushed for 101 yards and two scores.
But Houston will take a giant leap up in competition next week when it travels to Louisville to take on the Cardinals.
Are the Cougars ready for such a big test? And will they be ready when conference play begins three weeks later?
Here are five things we learned in Houston’s first game of the 2015 season that might help us decide.
Greg Ward Is One of the Most Dynamic Players in the Country
Ward showed why he earned the starting nod from Herman. After two years of splitting time at WR and QB, the shifty speedster looked as comfortable at the position as he’s ever looked. And that’s saying a lot. Because Ward always looked like he could be a star playmaker from behind center. Some guys just have something special. That’s Ward.
Unlike previous seasons under Tony Levine, the offense installed by Tom Herman and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite looks tailor-made for Ward. There is lots of motion, misdirection, quick traps and roll-outs. Moreover, the team takes shots down the field with deep passes, and it gives Ward an opportunity to run should the coverage be too blanketed.
At a school known for great QBs, Ward is on his way to having a very special career.
The New Wide Receiving Core Is Solid and Productive
Houston’s receiving core totaled 27 catches for 355 yards. Returning playmaker Demarcus Ayers, a junior, led the team with 10 receptions for 121 yards. Houston looks to have two other solid contributors as well in sophomore Kyle Postma, a converted QB, and Oregon transfer Chance Allen, a junior.
There are two big changes from last year’s unit that featured graduating seniors Daniel Spencer and Markeith Ambles and junior Deontay Greenberry, who declared for the NFL draft and went undrafted. First, the 2015 unit consistently gets separation from defensive backs. Maybe they’re faster. Maybe they run better routs. Whatever it is, they get open.
Second, they catch the ball. Last year’s team featured players long on talent but short on fundamental skills. This unit gets its hands on the ball makes catches.
The Offensive Line Remains a Mystery
Athlon Sports declared the Cougars offensive line a “weak spot” in its 2015 preview of the Coogs. While the line helped Houston get 266 yards rushing on Saturday and did a competent job at protecting Ward (which, let’s face it, is easier because he’s so elusive), there was nothing on Saturday to indicate the unit will be anything more than mediocre this season.
That’s bad news. Despite the glitz and glamour of the QB and RB positions, good offenses are built around good offensive lines.
Of course, there’s nothing to suggest the big men up front will be terrible either, or even that they won’t improve to the point of being a competent unit. The season is still young.
But the real test will come on Saturday against Louisville, a team with the kind of talent in its front seven on defense to either show Houston’s offensive line is legit or make it look terrible.
Too Many Blown Assignments in the Secondary
Houston controlled the game on both sides of the ball on Saturday, but the Cougar defense let Tennessee Tech score on too many long pass plays and get too many yards through the air. It started in the first quarter, when QB Jared Davis connected with Brock McCoin for a 71-yard pass play. There was nary a Cougar in the vicinity.
And McCoin wasn’t finished there. For the day, he tallied nine receptions for 264 yards and a pair of scores.
Now, Tennessee scored two TDs late when game was out of hand, but the saving grace of Houston’s teams over the last few years under Levine was their defense. With seven returning starters, the Cougars seemed to be in a better position this year than it looked on Saturday. Houston better cut down on the mental mistakes before the meat of its schedule or it will be a long season for the Coogs competing against the likes of Cincinnati, Navy and returning champion Memphis in American Athletic Conference play.
Houston’s Alumni Are Some of the Worst in College Football
Houston has poured millions of dollars into athletics over recent years in hopes of landing in a Power Five conference in the near future. The firing of Levine after two winning seasons in a row and the hiring of Herman signified an expectation from the administration that being above average just isn’t good enough. TDECU Stadium, in its second year, is one of the nicest stadiums in the country with an embarrassing list of amenities and a breathtaking view of the city skyline.
But for the opening game of one of the most exciting football seasons in recent memory, just over 30,000 fans showed up to support the team, almost 10,000 fewer than the capacity crowd that was there last season for the stadium opener.
For an aspiring big-time college football program, one with a tremendous amount of history of playing exciting and winning football, that’s just embarrassing. And it’s not the team’s fault. It’s not the administration’s fault. It’s not the Longhorns' or Aggies’ fault for leaving Houston for dead after the breakup of the Southwest Conference either.
It’s the alumni’s fault. Period. The students were there. The stadium is new. The team looked good. But the house wasn’t full.
It's hard to stage a "H-Town Takeover" like that.
(Note: Kelsey McCarson in an alumnus of the University of Houston.)