Different levels: Houston can’t stay with TCU

Different levels: Houston can’t stay with TCU


It was clear from the game’s first drive that the Horned Frogs were on a level above the Cougars.

It took TCU just six plays to score a touchdown. Worse, it looked like the Houston offense didn’t know whether it was on foot or on horseback for most of the game. If not for two takeaways and a special teams score by Matthew Golden, UH could have been shut out.

When head coach Dana Holgorsen was hired in 2019 to lead Houston, fans expected to see an exciting, high-scoring offense each and every week. But since he has been at the helm, the offense has often been as lackluster as an AP game story.

Holgorsen said earlier this season that it took him five weeks to figure out that last year’s team had the identity of an air raid-style offense. Three weeks into this season, the Cougars have no identity on offense, period. Really, the entire team has no identity.

Heading into the season, growing pains were expected with the transition away from long-time starters Clayton Tune and Tank Dell, but the offensive struggles have morphed into misery.

Houston’s running game is nonexistent. The new-look run-blocking installed by new OL coach/run game coordinator Eman Naghavi looks like the old system. UH averages 3.16 per rush (117th nationally), but that’s misleading: 43% of their season total came in the second half and OT against Rice. In the other ten quarters, UH has run it 76 times for 186 yards (2.45 ypc). Atrocious.

Quarterback Donovan Smith has looked uncomfortable for 10 out of the 12 quarters he has played with UH, and outside of Joseph Manjack and Samuel Brown, even the receiving corps has been dull. That group was expected to be the most Big 12-ready heading into the new season. Have they been?

Through three games, Houston is not Big 12 ready. Nowhere close. That should have been expected, but Holgorsen’s comments in the preseason made fans believe that the offensive line situation had been resolved.

From Joseph Duarte // Houston Chronicle

Saturday, without saying it directly, Dana essentially said that 2023 is a rebuilding year for the Cougars. Ouch.

“It’s more depth,” the head coach said of the difference between UH and TCU. “And I’ve been saying this for two years, the biggest difference between Group of Five and Power Five is the second team and the third team. So, look man, we all know this is going to take some time. Nobody wants to hear it, and I am disappointed in how we played today offensively, and we have to get better. It is unacceptable.”

What Dana said six weeks ago does not match today’s reality.

Fans and alumni of the program have no confidence in the coaching staff to get Houston to be Big 12 ready. After all, he’s worked on the impending move to the conference for two years. What can magically change now?

Plays like the trick play, the lateral that eventually saw Manjack flip the ball back to Smith for an interception epitomized the offense under Holgorsen this season. Ugly.

Houston’s offensive line has been unable to create a push and Monday, Holgorsen again said he was disappointed with their pad level. After eight months of working on it, he said it will be a focus this week. The OL may look better against Sam Houston next week, but after that, it’ll be back to reality when the Cougars run into other Power Five defenses.

Not everything has been dreadful for Houston. Brown and Manjack have been the Cougars’ most reliable weapons this season. Brown came close to surpassing 100 receiving yards again against TCU, he fell one yard short. He has 343 yards receiving on twenty catches.

Golden seems to be getting closer to the playmaking form from a season ago. The kickoff return was one example, but he still has drop issues, something Holgorsen attributes to pressing and trying too hard.

UH found some success in the short passing game against the Horned Frogs. That is something it should look to build on as the season progresses, especially if it serves as a defacto running game replacement.

The bright spot from the running backs group has been freshman Parker Jenkins, who has arguably the best runs for the Cougars the entire season. Holgorsen said he will get more reps as the season progresses but added that his blitz pickup has kept him from seeing more playing time three games in.

All things considered, Houston’s defense has improved somewhat from a season ago when it was among the worst in all of college football. Malik Fleming has become an early-season star. And the special teams have been the best unit by far.

Uncomfortably, Houston sits at 1-2. Not enough bright spots for a head coach who is a quarter of the way into his fifth season. With Tilman Fertitta and Renu Khator watching the game live inside TDECU Stadium, I’m curious what they were thinking about as boos rained down on their football coach in the second half.

The stands were mostly empty by the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter. As the game neared its end on Saturday, the official Big 12 Conference X account posted a photo of Commissioner Brett Yormark. Yormark was not with anyone affiliated with UH football, or with TCU football for that matter, in the photo. It was with UH men’s basketball head coach Kelvin Sampson.

Like many fans at this point, perhaps basketball season cannot come soon enough for him.

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Andy Yanez
Andy Yanez
Andy Yanez is a Contributing Editor and columnist for GoCoogs.com. He also hosts the weekly Pawd Slama Jama Podcast and Let's Rage Coogs after football and MBB games. In his spare time, he is a teacher and coaches youth basketball.

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