The Oklahoma Sooners and Houston Cougars are gearing up for Sunday’s season opener, and here to talk about the game are Sam Razz and Dustin Rensink from the Scott & Holman Pawdcast. We discuss D’Eriq King, Dana Holgorsen, Texas sucking and more!
Also, make sure to catch this week’s edition of the Oklahoma Breakdown Podcast (which also features Sam and Dustin).
Houston’s offense was effective in 2018 prior to D’Eriq King’s injury, but what changes do you expect to see on that side of the ball with the new coaching staff in place?
Sam: Houston operated at absurd pace under Kendal Briles, like so absurd that I was surprised we were only 4th in the country. Most of the time that helped the Coogs put up gaudy numbers, but in a lot of other games it exposed our Paper-Mache thin defense. No defense had more plays run against them (well over 1,000) in Division 1-FBS than the Coogs did. And that is of course directly related to the absurd pace Briles employed.
I think Dana Holgorsen will encourage D’Eriq King to be more judicious about his running, the same way he did to Case Keenum 10 or 11 years ago. The tempo will be slower, but I would still be surprised if UH isn’t top 35-40 in Bill Connelly’s Adjusted Pace by the end of 2019.
It’ll be pass happy because Dana will trust King as much, if not more so, than Will Grier. He inherits an excellent receiver group (which I’ll get to later) and maybe most importantly a running back in Patrick Carr who can be used heavily in the pass game out of the backfield.
Speaking of King, he was obviously incredibly efficient last season, but are there any areas in which he struggles or needs improvement?
Dustin: Like Sam said, I think the number one thing the coaching staff would like to see improved in his game is D’Eriq running the ball less often to hopefully stay healthy for the entire year this year. (Although his torn meniscus last year was a fluke non-contact injury, not a result of D’Eriq taking too many hits.) But beyond that, it’s a hard question to answer. D’Eriq didn’t do much wrong last year. He made all the throws, he showed terrific pocket presence, and obviously if you’ve seen a single highlight of his you know he has the athleticism to make impossible plays with his feet. If I had to pick an area for improvement, I guess I’d say consistently making the mid-range passes, but even that is just an area where he could improve from good to great.
At the skill positions, which players do OU fans need to keep an eye on?
Sam: The parting gifts from a certain Big 12 coach who’ll remain nameless were Ed Oliver and an extremely talented wide receiver group. Marquez Stevenson nearly missed 2 full seasons with injuries but didn’t show a trace of rust last year as he carved up nearly every defense he faced. He’s the total package: speed, hands and fearlessness.
I am pretty high on the rest of the projected Cougar starters at receiver, too. Keith Corbin had a problem with drops, but still managed to finish 2nd in the AAC in touchdown receptions. If Corbin is more sure-handed this year, then the Cougars will be an even more terrifying offense. Converted QB Bryson Smith (from the same hometown as Greg Ward Jr), Courtney Lark and Jeremy Singleton will all be as good athletically as any other receiver group OU will face in the regular season.
I mentioned Patrick Carr earlier, someone I’ve been high on since the moment I knew Holgo was taking over here. Kyle Porter, a grad transfer from the cow college in Austin, will be at worst a useful back in short yardage.
In 2018, UH was 106th nationally in defensive S&P+. What gives you hope that the situation can improve in 2019?
Dustin: I expect Houston to have a below-average defense again in 2019, but I have a lot more faith in the defensive coaching staff than I did a year ago, and the coaches addressed many of the holes on defense by going after transfers aggressively.
Starting with the coaching staff, outgoing DC Mark D’Onofrio was the bane of Cougar fans’ existence the last two years. He was a hire that didn’t make a ton of sense in the first place, as his defenses at Miami were never that impressive, and even those of us willing to give him a shot pretty quickly realized he was in over his head. There’s a reason that Major Applewhite fired him at the end of the regular season last year, in a futile attempt to save his own job. Replacing him is Joe Cauthen, whose defenses at Arkansas State were very effectively aggressive, something Cougar fans are dying to see after D’Onofrio’s defenses regular bent, bent some more, and eventually broke. With an offense as high-powered as Houston’s, you want to see a defense that takes chances, and gets back off the field one way or the other. And while I appreciate that every newly-hired DC comes in and says he’s going to play more aggressively than the previous staff, Cauthen has the resume to back it up. I’m also hoping that the switch to a 4-man front will make it harder for opponents to run it down our throats, something they did with impunity when Ed Oliver wasn’t on the field last year.
As far as personnel goes, Houston should benefit (at least to begin the season) from greater health, as well as from added depth via the transfer. Houston’s defense was never great last year, but it plummeted from below-average to awful when basically an entire 2-deep’s worth of defensive linemen (including Oliver) went down with injuries the second half of the season. Just having some promising players like Payton Turner and Isaiah Chambers healthy (knock on wood) should make the defensive front less porous. The Coogs will also need some JuCo transfers to step up. The coaching staff plans to rotate 9-10 guys on the D-line, which will include as many as 3 JuCo transfers. Terrance Edgeston at linebacker is another JuCo guy that the staff is excited about, and they added a pair of 1st-team JuCo All-Americans in the secondary in Damarion Williams and Gervarrius Owens. Unfortunately, a pair of D-1 transfers that were expected to contribute, grad transfer Colin Samuel from UCLA, and former highly-touted recruit Jordan Moore from Texas A&M, will not be playing due to injury and indefinite suspension, respectively. But I think the potential is still certainly there for the Cougar defense to improve from 106thto maybe somewhere in the 70s or 80s.
How many UH fans do you estimate will make the trip up to Norman this week?
Sam: I’m awful at estimating crowd sizes or how the UH fan base as a monolith will react to things. But nearly universally Cougar fans are excited about hiring Holgorsen and the prospect of playing a name like Oklahoma. Based on that, I am guessing between 4,000 and 5,000 fans make the trip up. The fact that this is Labor Day weekend will help, to be sure.
I’m going to take your question for us and throw it back in your direction. Let’s say hypothetically Houston comes into Norman and defeats the Sooners to open the season. What has to happen in order for this to be the case?
Dustin: Houston’s defense has to create havoc. They’re not going to stop Oklahoma from scoring points, but they have to at least create a turnover or two, and force some negative plays against an Oklahoma offensive line that is bringing in a bunch of new starters. If the Cougar defense can keep Oklahoma in the 30s or low 40s, and give the offense a short field or two to work with, I think D’Eriq King and company can score enough points to give the Cougars a shot. That’s a big “if”, though. I was in Lubbock to watch Tech score 1,000 on us last year, and I saw the way the likes of Temple and Memphis and Army ran the ball at will against us towards the end of the year, so I’m not about to bet a ton of money on a Cougar upset. But the offense certainly has the firepower to keep this close if the defense is contributing anything at all.
Who is the greatest Houston rapper of all time?
Sam: I picked the Geto Boyz when I was asked this question on the Crimson & Cream Machine podcast. I am proud of that selection, though with a little more time I think I would pick Devin the Dude. Seeing him live at the inaugural FreePress Summer Fest in Houston circa 2009 was one of the craziest live music experiences of my life (Broken Social Scene that same night was up there, as well).
Who makes the best taco in Houston?
Dustin: So the only acceptable answer from any Houstonian when asked about the best Mexican food in town is the original Ninfa’s on Navigation, because that is where you will find the best Mexican food in these United States. However if you’re looking for something a little less expensive, and a little quicker (counter service as opposed to waiting a long time for a table), you can’t go wrong with 100% Taquito, a few miles west of downtown. It’s a restaurant that started as a student project at the UH Hotel & Restaurant Management school, and serves some fantastic street tacos, including probably the best tacos al pastor I’ve ever had. Their tres leches cake is also out of this world.
Who is your favorite UH alum, and why?
Sam: Carl Lewis. He has enough money and clout to do whatever he wants and he chooses to be a volunteer track coach at UH. It’s not a coincidence Lewis and fellow UH Olympian Leroy Burrell (the head coach) have turned the UH track program into one of the nation’s best. And to reiterate, he doesn’t have to do this, but chooses to because he loves the university and its athletes.
What would you say is the percentage chance that Houston pulls out the upset? Do you think Houston beats the spread?
Dustin: I would give the Cougars a 15-20% chance of pulling the upset. This is a program that doesn’t fear name opponents, and the players and coaching staff seem quietly optimistic that the defense is going to take a step forward, so I think the possibility of an upset is certainly there, although Oklahoma’s superior overall talent definitely gives them the edge. If nothing else, I think Houston scores enough points to make it hard for Oklahoma to cover the 23-point spread, but those folks in Vegas know more than I do and I’ve been wrong before.
Give us your elevator pitch for why Houston should eventually be allowed to join the Big 12.
Sam: I’m going to take a unique approach to this. My goal here is to sell you on UH by not selling you on our best-case scenario. During the frenzy of 2016 re-alignment frenzy, I saw a lot of people from the non-Texas Big 12 schools worry about their ability to recruit the Houston area in a theoretical future league with UH. Barry Switzer, the coach I most associate with college football braggadocio, basically made this argument in public.
Sure, UH being able to sell the Big 12 will improve this program’s ability to recruit and raise the ceiling. UH already has good facilities and a top-25 paid coach without the dramatic change of having P5 school money. But do you really foresee OU not still winning more recruiting battles than they lose again UH? I mean the Sooners still have a ceiling dramatically higher than the Cougars just based on history and program support.
Finally, we’re fun. Your experience of fan bases from the state of Texas is heavily influenced by longhorns, aggies, red raiders and *shudder* Baylor fans. For that, I am sorry. For much of its history, UH has been a working-class university and we’re not really a pretentious bunch. Plus, you can’t tell me you’d rather go visit Waco, Lubbock, Morgantown or Manhattan fucking Kansas than Houston. I am not saying you guys want to live in the place, but you can’t beat Houston for food and entertainment around a game. Just replace Baylor with us, you know you want to.
Why does Texas (the school, not the state) suck?
Dustin: I don’t acknowledge the existence of a school called Texas, I’m going to assume you’re referring to UT-Austin, the official school of doing less with more. They have more money than God, more easy access to more recruiting talent than anybody in the country, and they have 1 national title to show for it in the last half century. No school has benefitted more in my lifetime from shitty officiating going their way, and yet no fanbase has more of a collective conniption fit when they perceive one call to go against them. They’re so entitled, and so flush with cash that they do stupid shit like buy land in Houston for a new campus that UH was never going to let be built, then they turn around and cry poor when any other school in Texas requests that the state’s Permanent University Fund be opened to any other school besides the ones in Austin and College Station. They’re such unbearable pricks that they’ve been single-handedly driving 21st century conference realignment just by all the schools that want to get away from having to deal with them. If their fan base could be captured in a single individual, it would be some Lexus-driving douchebag who wants to speak to college football’s manager about why his team isn’t going undefeated every year.