Hawaii Bowl: Houston Cougars Q&A With Underdog Dynasty

Hawaii Bowl: Houston Cougars Q&A With Underdog Dynasty

Fresno State

Hawaii Bowl: Houston Cougars Q&A With Underdog Dynasty

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Hawaii Bowl: Houston Cougars Q&A With Underdog Dynasty


We chat about Fresno State’s bowl opponent, the Houston Cougars, with SB Nation’s Joe Broback.


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What can Bulldogs fans expect from Houston?

On Christmas Eve, the eyes of the college football nation will fall upon the Hawaii Bowl, where the Fresno State Bulldogs and Houston Cougars will take center stage.

Despite being the only bowl that day, the Hawaii Bowl might still be flying under the radar as a potentially titanic defensive battle. To help Fresno State fans learn more about Houston, we reached out and chatted with Joe Broback of Underdog Dynasty, who covers the Cougars for SB Nation’s most comprehensive Group of 5 blog.

MWwire: How did Houston’s 7-4 record line up with preseason expectations?

Joe Broback: Expectations didn’t change because Tom Herman left (though maybe they should have). Former athletic director Hunter Yurachek stated that he expected eight-win seasons consistently, and made it known that the football program was expected to compete at a high level regardless of who’s coaching. In my opinion, they would have met that eight win mark had they played the game against UTSA, so they would have met that goal.

So, really, it depends on who you ask. I think some fans were stuck under the impression that Tom Herman-like results would continue, even though Major Applewhite isn’t Herman. For a first season, it was a good one for Applewhite. It took a little longer to get things figured out, but it seems that Applewhite was able to make some adjustments when needed.

MWwire: Fresno State knows that they’ll have to keep an eye on Ed Oliver, but who would you consider the next-best Cougar defender in the front seven, and why?

Broback: That’s tough. It would have to be between D’Juan Hines and Matthew Adams. Adams was the leader in the group, and you could even add Emeke Egbule at outside linebacker, as well. The linebackers all had great seasons, but if I had to pick, I’d go Hines. He made a nearly flawless transition from outside linebacker to inside, and had a career season (104 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles). Hines has great instincts to sniff out plays, and his discipline from playing outside backer helped him read is keys.

MWwire: What has been the biggest difference between the offense before D’Eriq King and the offense after he took over? Is a comparison to Greg Ward lazy or accurate?

Broback: First, and the most obvious, is King’s running ability. Neither Kyle Allen nor Kyle Postma possessed the running ability that King does. From a coaching standpoint, picking up the tempo also contributed to the offensive success. At the beginning of the season, the offense wasn’t going very fast, and it seemed there was a lot of time between plays. Major Applewhite figured it out about halfway through the season to pick up the pace, and that certainly helped a ton.

As for those comparisons, I think it’s easy to compare the two, but it’s not fair to either player. Ward was such a great talent, and no one will ever be like him. His agility was better than King’s, but I think King throws a better ball. Ward certainly improved as a passer, but I think it comes more naturally to King. I don’t usually like when people compare players just because they play the same position and went to the same school. Both Ward and King bring unique styles to the game, so it’s best to compare them to nobody.

MWwire: Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson recently left to take a job at Florida, and Mountain West fans have already seen this past week what coaching shakeups can do in a bowl. With head coach Major Applewhite assuming play-calling duties on Saturday, which part of the offense might be most affected?

Broback: Personally, I think fans will see some flashes of last season. Playcalling was one of the biggest gripes this year for Houston. When Kyle Allen was in at quarterback, it seemed like the offense was extremely basic, lacking any creativity. Johnson seemed to favor the bubble screen A LOT (I can’t emphasize that enough), and the run game was essentially nonexistent. Applewhite is a much better play caller, so it will be fun to see how the offense responds. I really hope the run game looks more like the second half of the season than the first, but the passing game will be the most affected.

The biggest reason for Greg Ward’s success last year was Applewhite. Ward became more of a passer in his final season on campus, and Applewhite’s coaching played a huge role. Now, Ward gets to work with his position coach who will also call his plays. I think that combination will make a big difference, and hopefully attracts a strong candidate for offensive coordinator in 2018.

MWwire: One thing I’m looking forward to is safety play on both sides. What can you tell us about Houston’s tandem, Garrett Davis and Terrell Williams?

Broback: Both are ball hawks that love competing for passes. Davis and Williams both had four interceptions this season to lead the team, and both had over 50 tackles.

Another safety that kind of gets forgotten is Khalil Williams. Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio utilized Williams as a hybrid safety and linebacker to add some needed depth to the front seven. All three are players that aren’t afraid to stick their noses in the trenches to make a tackle, and can make big plays when called upon.

Be sure to check out our Fresno State Q&A at Underdog Dynasty, as well!

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