Second year head coach Tom Herman (13-1 all time) marches a confident University of Houston roster 6.7 miles from campus into NRG Stadium to take on the Oklahoma Sooners in week one. Here is a quick glance at the biggest challenges the Cougars, fresh off a Peach Bowl victory, bring to the field in each aspect of the game.
Primary Threat – Senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. punctuated his Heisman Trophy candidacy last year by dismantling the Florida State Seminoles 38-24 in the Peach Bowl last year. Ward, a finalist for the Manning Award for the country’s best quarterback, amassed 2,828 yards through the air and 1,253 on the ground. Although small in frame at 5′-11″ and 188 pounds, even those who follow Power Five teams were aware of what Ward can do. The dynamic runner forces opponents to close the pocket as soon as possible and rely on gang tackling. But as Ward showed last year, he is elusive and can extend plays until he finds an open man. Though his main target Demarcus Ayers is on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster in 2016, assume Ward is looking to hook up with 6′-3″ 215 pound senior wide receiver Chance Allen.
Also Keep an eye on former Texas Longhorn Duke Catalon to take over duties at tailback.
Primary Threat – A lot of the success of the defense came in the form of takeaways. The group recorded 35 of them in 2015 and helped the Cougars end up with a turnover margin of +21 which, was good enough for second in the country. Can that kind of success be maintained in 2016? It is highly unlikely, but ask Glen Spencer and the Oklahoma State Cowboys and they will tell you when you put an emphasis on creating turnovers, there is a way to make this a multi-year happening. Senior cornerback Brandon Wilson is responsible for taking it to the house twice last year on defense, but the guy opposite of him last year – William Jackson and his 23 pass deflections – is gone. Should Houston hang with the Sooners, do not be surprised if it is because of turnovers.
Also keep an eye on defensive ends senior Cameron Malveaux and junior Nick Thurman who helped the Cougars hold opponents to 108.9 yards per game on the ground in 2015 and combined for 49.5 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss.
Primary Threat – Cornerback Brandon Wilson, added to his two defensive touchdowns with two kick returns for touchdowns. Wilson also scored on offense twice last year too.
Also Keep an eye on senior place kicker Ty Cummings who came off of a perfect 2015 campaign of 8-8 on field goal attempts (includes career long of 45 yards) and 51-51 on PATs.