On Saturday, April 16th, the Houston Cougars held their Red & White game. This spring game was, more or less, the fan base’s introduction to the 2016 squad. Although it is tough to glean any actual conclusions from these events, and any such conclusion should be taken with a grain of salt, there were some things worth noting from the afternoon of football, which was largely for the fans.
Being back in TDECU Stadium was nice. And as the crowd trickled in a circle drill of tackling commenced in the middle of the field. The ferocity of this easily eclipsed the recorded versions that the athletics department includes in their spring practice updates. It was a good way to start the afternoon and definitely fulfilled Tom Herman’s expectations of competitive focus.
Once the actual scrimmage began, it became increasingly clear to me that I did not understand the scoring system in place. The non-traditional scoring was something that I was largely unable to figure out as the game unfolded. What I do know, however, is that the defense, in white, defeated the offense, in red, 74-72.
Although, again, the play in a spring game may be entirely unrepresentative of what may eventually unfold in the regular season, seeing players succeed is better than seeing them struggle. But unfortunately, some key players didn’t participate, due to various reasons.
The most intriguing newly eligible Cougar was Duke Catalon, a running back transfer from Texas. But he did not participate on Saturday. Catalon is the expected starter to replace the almost entirely depleted running back core. Incoming freshman, Mulbah Car, the expected second stringer, is not yet on campus. So, the running backs we saw were mostly third stringers and beyond. So the offensive position with the most mystery and intrigue will remain so for the fan base.
Blake Hirsch and Josh Burrell bore the brunt of the carries, with 17 and 14, respectively, and 58 and 49 yards each. Their rushing was made difficult by a robust defensive line that seemed to always penetrate the backfield.
Chance Allen, the Oregon transfer who had an impressive 2015 season, did not participate in the spring game. But we know that he will thrive, as he is not a mysterious commodity. Ra’Shaad Samples, too, did not participate.
A wide receiver, though, was arguable the star of the game. Sophomore Isaiah Johnson hauled in three touchdowns and 292 yards. Having only 6 catches last season, his dominance was a surprise. Hopefully his impressive play will translate into the regular season.
On the other side of the spectrum, a scary moment occurred. After grabbing a pass, Steven Dunbar was tackled awkwardly, and remained on the turf for quite a while. He was able to hobble off of the field, and X-rays came back negative. But it was an anxious sequence of events for the receiver who is poised to have a great season.
Although it was fun to see Kyle Allen and Bowman Sells on the field, commanding the offense, Greg Ward Jr. and Kyle Postma were the main event on quarterback. Ward looked impressive. He went 18-28 for three touchdowns and 303 yards. Despite an interception, I was mostly impressed by his throwing, which has been developing in earnest since the day Herman arrived. Postma looked like a capable backup, going 22-38, with 235 yards and 1 touchdown.
I couldn’t make too many observations on the offensive line. While the defensive line kind of dominated, the o-line never appeared egregiously bad, and the d-line may just be significantly improved. Or, this was a spring game, and I shouldn’t read into it too much. Let’s go with that one.
On Defense, the most intriguing part is the secondary. With the departure of William Jackson III, Adrian McDonald, Lee Hightower III, and Trevon Stewart, it was almost entirely depleted. The only returning starter of note is corner back, Brandon Wilson. And he was did not participate in the spring game because he underwent knee surgery in the offseason.
To offset the departures in the secondary, the coaching staff recruited the positions hard. They brought in both freshman and JUCO transfers. J.J. Dallas, a safety transfer from Blinn Community College, made the biggest impact in the spring game. He had 11 total tackles, one for loss, and a sack. Corner Alexander Myers also had 7 tackles. Other than them, though, the secondary did appear to be newly constructed, and Ward was able to take advantage of them.
As already stated, the defensive line looked fairly robust. Defensive end, Zach Vaughan had four tackles, one for loss, a sack, and an interception. He filled the stats sheet in his dynamic performance. Cameron Malveaux, who we should see in a large role this season, also impressed, with a sack and a pass break up.
While the linebackers lost the dominant Elandon Roberts, others seem to be stepping up in his absence. Steven Taylor, who had an impressive year alongside Roberts in 2015, had 8 tackles and broke up a pass. D’Juan Hines had 7 tackles, two for loss, and a sack. The linebacking core looks primed for an impressive year.
In the previous paragraphs I have made myriad observations, despite my own warnings against this practice. So, again, take it all with a grain of salt. And remember, spring games are mostly just for the fans. And, as a fan, I enjoyed.