Why Marquez Stevenson is set to have a dominant year
It's funny, we just assume things will be simple when it comes to good players producing on a regular basis. There doesn't seem to be much consideration to scheme, coaching changes, offseason workouts, or anything that goes into a players performance. Even players who are good can have career highs and it just looks like the production came out of nowhere. Marquez Stevenson is one of those guys, and he's already showing why 2020 will be a career year for him, even if we're just one game into the season.
Stevenson's speed has always been his greatest asset, and a big reason why he can thrive in any system. It's something you can't teach, and a trait that any coach would love to have on their offense. But consistency comes into play eventually, and knowing the playbook becomes a priority when you can't rely on natural talent. This isn't a knock on Stevenson, by the way, but rather more attributing the roller coaster production to learning a new scheme too frequently. Stevenson's learning from his fourth different offensive coordinator in five years at Houston. He's proven that he can learn a new system, but the unfamiliarity and lack of reps limited his consistency.
He played in a couple games as a freshman in Major Applewhite's system and didn't play as a sophomore when Applewhite became head coach and brought in Brian Johnson. His first real taste of college football came in Kendal Briles' Air Raid attack in which he eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving and caught nine touchdown passes. When Dana Holgorsen took over for the fired Applewhite, Stevenson entered yet another new scheme. It's tough to master the different route trees in each offense, even with the skillset Stevenson possesses, but we're seeing what happens when the coaching staff provides him some stability.
We've seen what peak Stevenson looks like, as evident in his 211-yard performance last year against SMU and his 177-yard performance against Texas Tech in 2018. Then there's the valley of that roller coaster ride. He notched his ninth 100-yard game of his career, yet he only has four games of over 130 in the 23 games he's played significant time. Stevenson has 10 games (43.4%) of under 50 yards receiving, including four under 30. Again, that has to do with the changes in leadership and him having to learn a new playbook every year, including last year.
Last year was rough for so many reasons, but for Stevenson it was the new playbook combined with a lack of help at receiver. He only caught 52 passes, but averaged 17.4 yards per catch, which set up this season as one with great potential. While it's one game in, it's looking like he's ready for a career season.
There's something to be said about getting an offseason to learn from the previous year. Now that Stevenson's familiar with the playbook, the sky's the limit for his production. Just ask Tulane. He caught five passes for 118 yards (23.6 ypc) with one touchdown on top of a kick return for a touchdown. Not only is he using his speed to win one-on-one matchups, but everyone around him is more familiar with what's going on, including the coaching staff.
Holgorsen and his staff learned from last year what they have with guys like Stevenson, and they now understand how to get him into better matchups and how to spring him loose. A playmaker like him can only be contained for so long, and it's up to the coaching staff to limit how long. Thursday's game was a great example of that. Houston's first play was a big gain from Clayton Tune to Stevenson. Tune looked his way multiple times in each quarter, something that keeps defenses in check. Even if he doesn't catch the ball, the idea of Tune trying to hit him downfield reminds the opposing secondary that they're in trouble if they take a play off.
When a new coaching staff enters the picture, a number of players decide to move on since they weren't recruited by that coaching staff or they don't gel with well together. Stevenson's on his third new head coach and fourth offensive coordinator, something that not many would stick around to endure. His patience is noticed, and his response to adversity is what makes him one of the most explosive players in college football. With each new playbook and change thrown his way, he kept his head down and went to work, and we saw what can happen. Next up? Another chance to send a message.
BYU's allowing just 179.5 yards per game through the air in their first four games. No leading receiver facing the Cougars defense has produced more than 82 yards, but they've yet to see a talent like Stevenson. BYU's one of the hottest teams in college football, and it will be a great opportunity for Houston and its star receiver to showcase what they can do.
Marquez Stevenson's journey started with Tom Herman, and has tested him plenty in his career. Now he's finally found some stability in the coaching staff, and he's already showing why he singlehandedly can change a defense's game plan. It hasn't been easy to get where he's at, but's been worth it. Oh and we haven't even mentioned the challenges of having four season openers canceled because of COVID. Nothing's stopping Stevenson from exploding now, meaning the fun is just beginning.