NoleGameday

Who are the Houston Cougars?

Derick E. Hingle/USA Today Sports

One of the most improved teams in the entire country, the Houston Cougars have taken college football by storm this season. Head coach Tom Herman, formerly the offensive coordinator for Ohio State, has led the Cougars to a 12-1 record and an American Athletic Conference title in his first season in Houston. Dynamic quarterback Greg Ward Jr. has accounted for 35 total touchdowns this season and Herman has Houston rolling as one of the most explosive offenses in college football.

After an 8-5 2014 campaign, Houston hired Tom Herman, the playcaller behind Ohio State’s championship offense. He brought with him Major Applewhite, formerly of Texas, to be his offensive coordinator and continue his fast-tempo, spread offense scheme and Todd Orlando, formerly of Utah State, to run a 3-4 defense that took advantage of Houston’s talent at linebacker.

Herman and the Cougars hit the ground running, winning their first 10 games and emerging as a contender for the Group of Five representative in the New Years Six bowls. Greg Ward Jr. took control of the offense and dazzled audiences with his unique blend of arm talent and running ability. They scored over 50 points three times and nearly hit the mark again in a 49-28 win over SMU.

Perhaps the most impressive stretch for Houston came at the beginning of November when they beat Cincinnati and Memphis in back to back weeks. Ward out-dueled Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel, who threw for 523 yards and 4 touchdowns, in a 33-30 victory. The next week, Ward was injured versus Memphis, but backup quarterback Kyle Postma came in and helped Houston rally to a 35-34 victory over Paxton Lynch and the Tigers.

Unfortunately, Ward was knocked out early in their next game versus Connecticut and Postma was unable to lead the Cougars to another come-from-behind win. They fell 20-17 to the Huskies, but it would be the only regular season loss on their schedule.

Ward returned in the final week of the regular season and led Houston to a 52-31 win over Navy, which clinched the West Division title for the Cougars. In the American Athletic Conference championship, Temple held Houston to one of their worst offensive performances of the season but the Cougars prevailed in a 24-13 win to clinch the AAC title and a spot in the Peach Bowl.

Houston comes into this game boasting one of the country’s best offenses. Tom Herman’s squad averages 39.7 points per game, ranked 10th overall in the country. Their rushing attack is 14th in the country with 237.8 yards per game (5.0 yards per attempt) and the passing game is 46th with 238.3 yards per game (8.2 yards per attempt).

One of the biggest reasons why Tom Herman has been able to successfully install his offense at Houston is the play of Greg Ward Jr. The junior quarterback has been able to run the spread offense to perfection, racking up 3,636 total yards (2,589 pass, 1,047 rush) and 35 total touchdowns (16 pass, 19 rush). For the most part, Ward has been able to keep hold of the ball, but has five interceptions and seven fumbles on the season.

Ward is surrounded by talented playmakers as well. Demarcus Ayers leads all receivers with 88 receptions for 1,139 yards and 6 touchdowns. He also a threat on the ground with 131 rushing yards and a touchdown. Chance Allen and Steven Dunbar have combined for 79 receptions for 1,043 yards and 7 touchdowns. Lead tailback Kenneth Farrow has rushed for 949 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season but has been limited due to injuries as of late.

Houston has emerged as one of the most talented teams in the country, primarily due to their dynamic offense. Tom Herman definitely has his squad far above where the preseason predictions had them and Florida State will have a tough test in containing Greg Ward Jr.

Dakota Moyer
Florida State student and writer for NoleGameday.

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