Dana Holgorsen brings magic to Houston in Year 2
Houston had its ups and downs under Dana Holgorsen in his first season back on campus. Injuries, transfers and a lack of chemistry presented numerous challenges for the Cougars players and coaching staff. Holgorsen did his best to infuse talent into the roster via transfers this year, but he also brings something else with him that could help.
In his previous stops, his second year has proved to be the year things click, and the Houston faithful are hoping that stays true for their team. The Cougars have the personnel to make the jump, and history shows that it can be at record-breaking pace.
Quarterback: Clayton Tune returns after a rocky season as the starter when D'Eriq King sat out to redshirt (and eventually transfer to Miami). He gave fans glimpses of what he could do, but also battled a hamstring injury for most of the season. His stats weren't anything flashy, but that had more to do with the play up front than anything. Holgorsen's son, Logan, will backup Tune while fending off walk-on Ike Ogbogu and freshman Sofian Massoud.
Running back: Mulbah Car revived the Houston offense at times last year but made the decision to sit out in order to redshirt and return this season. Kyle Porter was the steady starter when healthy, and gives the Cougars offense a versatile weapon as a runner and pass-catcher.
Wide Receiver: This is the group to watch. Keith Corbin returns, and his presence elevates everyone around him. Marquez Stevenson is the only receiver with 30 or more catches last year, but there's plenty of potential behind him. Jeremy Singleton (381 yards, 3 TD), Tre'von Bradley (326, 1), and tight end Christian Trahan give Houston depth to work with this year. Bryson Smith will also be utilized at receiver, but also as a Wildcat quarterback.
Dana Holgorsen: Year 2
Holgorsen's made an impact everywhere he's been as a coach. From Houston and Texas Tech as an offensive coordinator to West Virginia as a head coach, Holgorsen's second season featured an offense that took significant strides in the passing game. Houston fans are hoping he can recreate that same magic in 2020, and it seems the question becomes how much of an improvement will they make? The talent above is good, but can it be great? Holgorsen's proven track record should get the Cougars back on track, and it's just a matter of how high they go.
If we shift our attention to the Cougars offensive skill players, we'll see that they're in store for a potentially explosive year. At least definitely better than last year. It's in Holgorsen's history, starting back in 2005. He was a co-offensive coordinator at Texas Tech from 2005 to 2006, and then the sole coordinator in 2007. Counting the 2007 season as his second, we saw a significant jump in the production of the offense.
The Red Raiders offense jumped from 32.5 points per game to 40.9 in his first year as the sole coordinator. Graham Harrell improved his passing yards from 4,555 yards to 5,705 with his passing touchdowns jumping from 38 to 48. His receivers also benefited immensely. Tech's receivers went from Joel Filani (91 catches, 1,300 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Robert Johnson (89-871-11) to Michael Crabtree (134-1,962-22) and Danny Amendola (109-1,245-6).
When Holgorsen went to Houston as the offensive coordinator from 2008-2009, we saw a similar jump in the Cougars offense. Case Keenum went from 5,020 yards (an insane number by itself) to 5,671 yards. The receivers also benefited. Not only did the top receivers improve, but Houston went from one 1,000 yard receiver in 2008 to three in 2009 and had two running backs combine for over 1,200 yards. His offenses also improved from 40.6 points per game to 42.2 (2nd in the country).
Then there's West Virginia, where Holgorsen was the head coach from 2011 to 2018 before taking the same job back at Houston. With the Mountaineers, he produced one of the most electric offenses in school history behind an elite trio. Geno Smith threw 31 touchdowns in 2011 but threw 42 the next season. And that's where the fun begins. Any die-hard college football fan should know the names Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. The two torched Big 12 defenses for years, and they exploded in 2012. The year before, they both eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving. Bailey caught 72 passes, Austin caught 101, but they both managed to beat those numbers the next year. In 2012, Bailey caught 114 passes for 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns. Austin also caught 114 passes for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns while also rushing for 643 yards and three more scores.
Houston's offense in Holgorsen's second year
There's no question that the talent is there. Stevenson is blazing fast and reminds me a lot of Stedman Bailey. Corbin's athletic and can come down with anything. Tune's shown that he can make big throws even while under pressure, and any improvement up front will add to his success. So how does Dana Holgorsen's history affect this team? Let's look at the stats.
By taking the averages of the three teams above, below is what Houston's projected leaders would be at their offensive skill positions.
Clayton Tune: 3,110 yards, 27 TD-16 INT RB's (Car/Porter): 904 yards-6 TD WR 1 (Stevenson): 88 catches-1,304 yards-18 TD WR 2 (based on Singleton's numbers): 39 catches-581 yards-2 TD
While these don't appear elite, they're are miles ahead of last year's team, and should put the Cougars back towards the top of the conference. If it's better than that, there shouldn't be any doubt about Holgorsen's ability to spark an offense. Houston was 51st in scoring offense last year, so imagine what an improved offense looks like in 2020. The depth at receiver provides Tune with multiple weapons to utilize, and it looks like Stevenson and Corbin are set to have career seasons. Tune's projected numbers would also stand out, and it'll just come down to the protection he receivers up front. If Tune has time, Houston's an offense your team won't want to see on a weekly basis.