The Houston Cougars got their 2010 football season underway on Friday, meeting for photos and their first practice while the team held its annual media day.
Despite a successful 2009 season, the Cougars come into this season wanting to forget last year, wanting to get done what they failed to do last season, and wanting to do even better this year.
"What happened last year happened last year," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "And that's motivation for the off-season. It has nothing to do with practice today, the first game, or any game this year. That's last season. This is a different team, a different schedule....Last year's last year. What you can do is learn from your mistakes and not let them happen to you again. That's all that we can ask our guys to do."
Despite the team's gaudy 10-4 record, there were many things for them to learn from, including the team limping to a 2-3 record over its last five games as they lost in the C-USA title game, and then lost 47-20 to Air Force in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl to end the season.
"Sometimes dealing with success is more difficult than dealing with failure," Sumlin said. "I told somebody the other day, my grandfather had a saying: he'd say let him find out for himself, then he'll be easy to tell. You can tell somebody what's going to happen, and deal with stuff, all you want, but it's a heck of lot easier once they've been through it."
The Cougars return with one of the most explosive offensives in college football, including the high-profile Heisman candidate Case Keenum at QB. Keenum's top three receivers, James Cleveland, Patrick Edwards, and Tyron Carrier also return.
The depth at running back will be an issue as Charles Sims, who saw a majority of the playing time towards the end of last season has been suspended for the year by the NCAA. Junior Bryce Beall, who put up big numbers as the starting running back in 2008, will now be Keenum's main backfield option.
"Bryce does a great job of getting open out of the backfield, and I'm going to count on him being open," Keenum said Friday. "That's one of those things where, going through my reads, I'm going to know that I always have a back, if I get pressured or if I go through my reads and everybody's covered, Bryce is going to be there open. It's a weapon. It's a dangerous weapon to get a guy like that with the ball in his hands in the open field. That's sometimes a better choice than throwing it down the field."
For Sumlin, the two key differences between this season's team and last season's are depth and the defense.
Sumlin stated on Friday that the team has never had the depth that it does this season, especially on the offensive line -- which was beat up at the end of last year -- the linebacking corps, and special teams.
And echoing former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson's "40 minutes of hell" philosophy, Sumlin vows that this Cougar team is going to be unlike any team he's had since he's been here.
The team has a new defensive coordinator, Brian Stewart, the former defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, and a special assistant to the Philadelphia Eagles last season. The Cougars have always been aggressive on offense and with the special teams, but this year, they're going the aggressive route on defense.
"We're not going to be a bend but don't break defense," Sumlin said. "I think we tried that, and it didn't really work that well. Let's try something else. Let's put it this way, we can't do much worse. How about that?"
Calling the defense extremely fun, lineman David Hunter said he couldn't wait to get out on the field.
"When we found out we were getting Coach Stewart, we watched different film, and different things like that. And when we saw it we got excited," he said.
Hunter says the new defense, which goes from the 4-3 to the 3-4, is an aggressive, attacking defense. "That's just what we're going to do [attack, attack, attack]. We want to come out there every single play and give it 150 percent, give it everything we've got out there on the field. We just plan on getting it done. All we can do is do what Coach Stewart asks of us, and he's asking to go out there and attack, and go out there and do our thing."
Linebacker Marcus McGraw admitted to going back and watching the Dallas Cowboy edition of HBO's Hard Knocks when he heard Stewart was coming in. And he's loving his coach and his new style of play.
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"Oh yeah," he said. "It's a very more aggressive defense. We're not sitting back. He lets us play football. We're going to get it. We want to win. That's what he's going to let us do, he's going to let us get out there and make more plays. More big plays are going to come from it."
The first game is September 4 at Robertson Stadium. And as strange as it might be say, knowing how exciting the Cougar offense can be, but the anticipation is high to see what the new defense is going to be capable of doing.
Cougar play-by-play voice Tom Franklin says that Coach Sumlin's radio show will return this season on Wednesday nights from 7-8 p.m. on 790-AM starting the Wednesday before the first game....The Cougar practices on August 14 and 21 will be open to the public, with Saturday's scheduled to start at 11:15 a.m.