The Houston Cougars open up their football season Saturday night, and there's not really much we know about the UH game plan. As for the game against the Arizona Wildcats, it kicks off in Tucson at 9:30 and will be broadcast on ESPNU.
Houston Cougars head coach Major Applewhite has not yet named a starting quarterback. That starting decision should come Friday. Maybe. But it will be somebody with the first name of Kyle. The team has not released a depth chart. That's because Applewhite wants every player to think he still has a chance of starting the game.
The Cougars were supposed to have played UTSA last week. That would have answered the depth chart questions. That didn't happen because of Hurricane Harvey. But Arizona comes into this game fresh off of demolishing Northern Arizona by a 62-24 score last week.
The Wildcats gained 595 total yards on offense, with 506 of those yards coming off of the rush. QB Brandon Dawkins led the Arizona rushers with 92 yards and two TDs, while passing for another touchdown. Still, with Rich Rodriguez as the head coach of Arizona, Applewhite wants his team to be prepared for anything.
“They’re going to play with great pace,” Applewhite said Monday. “They’re going to run the football. They’re going to allow the quarterback to be a part of their run game. If need be, they will throw the football. I have seen them throw for 300, 400, 500 yards before. It’s not rare for them to do that. But if they don’t have to, they’re not going to. They’re going to play with great pace, and they’re going to run the football at you. They’re going to do it for four quarters.”
So what should be expected from the Cougars tomorrow night? Is there a Harvey hangover? Does the team crash with the advent of a new coaching regime, as happened when UH went from Kevin Sumlin to Tony Levine?
The quarterback will be either Kyle Postma, Greg Ward's former backup who led the Cougars to several key wins the past two seasons, or Kyle Allen, a former Aggie starter who red-shirted last season. Both are familiar with Applewhite and what he wants and expects on offense, and what he requires from his QBs. The decision may just come down to who can beat execute Applewhite's vision.
“Both of them have competed really well this far,” Applewhite said of his quarterbacks. “They’ll continue to compete this week through practice.”
The defense still features All-American lineman Ed Oliver, who set the world ablaze as a freshman last season. But then again, no one is really sure of the depth chart aside from Oliver. And the defensive staff is likely searching for just the right combination of player who can stop the run and also defend the pass.
“[Our depth chart] changes daily,” Applewhite said. “It changes daily because of performance. It changes daily because of injuries. Our guys are always going to understand that they’re competing each and every day. There’s never a position sewed up, or locked up, on this roster. I want everybody to know…that they’re one play away from starting.”
Then there's the question of Harvey. Most of the team relocated to Austin right before the storm hit — several players stayed in town to assist ill relatives or to be with their children. The team practiced, but players were involved in relief efforts. The Cougars spent last weekend, after the UTSA game was postponed (now officially canceled), regrouping from Harvey. Players huddled together by position unit to help out each other.
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But this week has been about game prep. It's about putting aside Harvey and concentrating on the Arizona game.
“You don’t move on,” Applewhite said. “You just compartmentalize. That’s one of the things we talked about last week. We’ve got to compartmentalize what is, and what we’ve got to do. That's a great lesson for us to learn.”
So there you have it. No named starters. No quarterback decision. It’s been several weeks of upheaval for the Cougars, with a massive hurricane and a canceled football game. Heading out to Tucson and escaping all of this madness could be the best thing to happen to this team.
But that’s a question that won’t be answered until Saturday night.