By the end of the season, quarterback Case Keenum will probably hold every passing mark in the NCAA record books.
But for all of Keenum's talent and the numbers he'll put up, the Cougars must improve defensively if they hope to accomplish big things, such as a Conference USA title and a victory in a bowl game, in 2010.
Houston allowed 35 or more points seven times last season. Head coach Kevin Sumlin made a major change and hired Brian Stewart as the new defensive coordinator. Following nearly a month of practices and film study, the White team (defense) defeated the Red team (offense), 72-52 in the spring game.
So far, Sumlin thinks the defense is showing signs of improvement.
"I like the flexibility of our defense," he told the Houston Chronicle. "I like our energy. I like our ability to hide what we're doing and run to the ball. For 15 practices, I'm pretty happy with where our defense is. We're getting better."NOTES, QUOTES
--To go along with Case Keenum's big numbers at quarterback, Houston became the fourth team in NCAA history to have three receivers with over 1,000 yards receiving last season. James Cleveland led the Cougars in receiving with 104 catches for 1,214 yards. He was joined in the club by Tyron Carrier (91-1,029) and Patrick Edwards (85-1,021). The unit looks to be even better with the return of senior Kierrie Johnson, who was bothered by a hamstring injury last season. Johnson caught seven passes for 150 yards and two scores in the spring game.
--Linebacker Marcus McGraw became a starter as a true freshman two years ago and never looked back. The junior has started 27 straight games and has made 259 total tackles.
--The coaching staff hoped the addition of junior college transfers Matangi Tonga, a senior defensive end, and Sammy Brown, a junior linebacker, would bolster the defense. Both played well in spring camp.
--Coach Kevin Sumlin was pleased the Cougars made it through the spring game without any major injuries.
LB Jeffery Lewis -- The sophomore led the team with eight tackles in the spring game.
LB Kelvin King -- Moved to the outside position, he had two sacks and six tackles in the spring game.
DE David Hunter -- He had three tackles in the spring game and drew praise from the coaching staff.
WR Gino Collins -- The redshirt sophomore has a big spring game, catching nine passes for 96 yards and a 22-yard touchdown.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's hard to ask a guy who has led the country in total offense two years in a row to be better. He doesn't have to do any more or any less than last year. He knows what it takes to win. He's played long enough and studied enough tape. I'll put it this way -- his expectation levels are a lot higher than most realize and even some of the coaches realize." -- Houston coach Kevin Sumlin on record-setting quarterback Case Keenum.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Can the Cougars bounce back from losing three of their last five games in 2009? Houston won eight of its first nine, including victories over Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Mississippi State. However, a 38-32 loss to East Carolina in the conference title game and a 47-20 blowout to Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, a game that saw Keenum throw six interceptions and the defense get shredded, ended the season on a down note.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Cougars led the nation in total offense (563.4 yards per game), passing offense (433.7 yards per game) and scoring offense (42.2 points per game) last season. Case Keenum returns at quarterback, as do eight other starters. Keenum threw for 44 touchdowns and 5,671 yards last season. Four starters return from the offensive line, and Keenum's receivers and running backs should be even better with the experience they gained last season.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Sitting back and watching offenses move up and down the field with little resistance last season didn't work so new coordinator Brian Stewart is going with a new approach. The Cougars will try a 3-4 defense that will feature an aggressive, attacking style. Houston was young on defense last season. Stewart hopes the added experience and more speed will turn the unit into a positive.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Matt Hogan made all 12 of his field goal attempts as a redshirt freshman. Jordan Mannisto will handle the punting duties. The Cougars returned five kickoffs for touchdowns, blocked six kicks and had a 100-yard defensive PAT return. Return men Tyron Carrier and Devin Mays are back.
--WR James Cleveland, who played with a torn labrum last season, had surgery in the offseason and was held out of spring drills.
--Senior Jordan Shoemaker moved from guard to center during spring drills. Sophomore Jacolby Ashworth, who was injured last season, was switched from left tackle to left guard.
--Sophomore Tyrone Campbell, who played one of the two tackles spots last season, will play nose tackle in the new 3-4 scheme.
--Senior Jacky Candy, who is coming off knee surgery, could push for playing time at free safety.
Previous Report: 02/05/2010