Houston Cougars QB Clayton Tune scans the field for an open receiver. (Courtesy Sean Thomas)
Photo courtesy Sean Thomas
It is the first game week of the season for the Houston Cougars, and both players and coaches are thrilled to take the field on Saturday against the UTSA Roadrunners.
Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen spoke to reporters on Monday and his biggest message ahead of the matchup is that it cannot come soon enough.
“We are ready,” Holgorsen said. “Camp has been good. We came out of it healthy and got a lot of work done, so I was very pleased with camp. Guys are excited about game week and the opportunity to go play. You don’t need a lot of motivation to play game one but when you look at our opponent that gives you a lot of motivation.”
Locked and loaded
The Cougars, who finished 2021 with a 12-2 record, were just short of their season goal of winning the American Athletic Conference championship. They enter the new year primed and focused to achieve what it could not last season.
While the defense and the rise of Sack Ave in 2021 became a calling card behind Houston’s success, Holgorsen is excited about the depth and versatility of his offense in 2022.
The Cougars released their first depth chart on Monday, among it, four starting receivers in Joseph Manjack at the X slot; Matthew Golden at the Z slot; and KeSean Carter at the Y slot, all of whom the head coach has been high on throughout training camp.
Of course, there is also star receiver in Nathaniel “Tank” Dell, who has garnered a lot of buzz heading into the new year. He is slated as WR1 on the H slot.
“It’s amazing what a year does for that room,” Holgorsen said. “Sam Brown has looked good as well. We got some bodies to choose from where last year we were kind of piecing that thing together with a lot of 11, 12 personnel and not having a whole lot of depth at receiver. I think we are a pretty solid two deep at receiver.”
Emphasis on the ground
Despite the plethora of weapons, Holgorsen said he still wants to be a run-first team. The bulk of the carries will go to fifth year running back Ta’Zhawn Henry.
The head coach acknowledged it will be crucial for UH not to overwork the lead back. Big plays from Southern California transfer Brandon Campbell and redshirt freshman Stacy Sneed will be important for the team, Holgorsen said.
Upfront on the offensive line, Holgorsen is excited to see what center Jack Freeman does after taking a step back in 2021 and learning from then senior transfer Kody Russey. The right tackle position is still up for grabs between Reuben Unije and Lance Robinson, the head coach said.
Around the American
Across the AAC, Central Florida kicks off the week’s games on Thursday against South Carolina State. The Knights are heavily favored. Temple kicks off Friday against Duke. East Carolina will host North Carolina State on Saturday.
SMU will play North Texas, and Memphis will travel to Mississippi State on Saturday as well. Tulane hosts Massachusetts.
The reigning AAC champion Cincinnati Bearcats travel to Arkansas to take on the Razorbacks on Saturday afternoon. Cincinnati is an underdog to start the 2022 season. The Bearcats enter the new year with a new quarterback. They had nine players taken in the 2022 NFL Draft.