Archive for August, 2009

ElViento: Sunday, August 30th means 6 days to Cougar football. Today, we saulte the efforts of #6, Andre Kohn.

As a freshman in 2008, Kohn averaged 5.1 yards per carry as Anthony Alridge‘s backup. After Quick 6 graduated, and with fellow backup Terrance Ganaway transferring to Baylor, the coast seemed clear for Kohn to take the reins as the starter. However, after an injury knocked him out for a few games, true freshman Bryce Beall took over the starting job and never looked back.

Instead of fretting about his losing his starting job, Kohn remained a productive player, as indicated by Scott & Holman‘s first down analysis a while back. He finished the season with 558 yards of total offense, and 5 TDs.

Incidentally, he also inspired one of my favorite Coog Crew cheers of all time. Following big plays by Kohn, select dorks near the front of the Coog Crew section would throw their hands in the air and yell “KOHN!!!!”, ala this:

This past off-season, Kohn tore his ACL, putting his football career in doubt. Incidentally, his job as backup will be taken over by a true freshman, Charles Sims.

I always appreciate football players who are willing to put their egos aside and do what it takes to help out the team. It’s truly a shame that such an awful injury happened to such a great Cougar.

Andre Kohn, we at Scott & Holman salute  you, and wish you the best in whatever the future brings.


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ElViento: It was a rough weekend for Cougar women’s sports, but not one without reasons for optimism.

After a season-opening, last-second loss to Texas-San Antonio, the Cougar soccer team played its second match of the year, up in Austin against the Longhorns. After fighting to a 0-0 tie at halftime, UT-Austin finally broke through the Cougar defense for a pair of goals, and Houston fell by a score of 2-0. Still, sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Frazier’s six saves indicate that the drop-off from graduated senior goalie Shelby Scott might not be as steep as some feared, and the result against a top-25 team indicates noticeable all-around improvement from the 4-0 loss in Austin two years ago.

Next up, the Cougars travel to southern California for a pair of games this weekend. On Friday, Houston plays at Pepperdine in Malibu, before taking on Loyola Marymount (Los Angeles) on Sunday.

The Cougar volleyball team opened its season with the Flo Hyman invitational this weekend, with mixed results.

The Cougars were playing without middle blocker and co-Conference USA pre-season player of the year Lucy Charuk, expected to be out for the year with a shoulder injury. 6-foot-2 outside hitter Ingrida Zauere also missed the tournament with injury, her return date is unknown.

The lack of experienced height up front showed for the Cougars, who struggled on day one. They played a fantastic first game in the match against New Orleans, earning a 25-16 win. However, the Coogs lost the second game in a heartbreaker 27-25, and things got progressively worse from there. Houston fell 3 games to 1, and looked overmatched in a straight-sets loss to Baylor that evening.

With a team decimated by injuries and other attrition to the roster, all you can really ask for is improvement, and you could certainly see that in day two.

Junior Amanda Carson, after being forced into playing outside hitter for the first time in day one, moved back to her natural position of libero. The Cougars responded with a dominant straight sets win (25-14, 25-17, 25-22) over a scrappy Southeastern Louisiana squad. Carson led the team with 14 digs, while senior outside hitter Kinsey Cave tallied a team-high 16 kills. Led by senior middle blocker Erin Rice, Houston earned a 10-4 team advantage in blocks over the Lions.

The Cougars played one of their better games against Indiana to conclude the tournament, but they were simply beaten by a more experienced, taller team. Five different Cougars picked up at least 5 digs, but the team managed just one block, and lost in straight sets (25-19, 25-21, 25-17).

The Cougars will travel to Tucson, Arizona this weekend for the Wildcat Classic. They will take on Eastern Washington and Nevada, in addition to host Arizona.

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ElViento: Saturday, August 29th means 7 days to Cougar football. Gee, I wonder what we could possibly do with the number 7. Does anyone we know wear that number?

Right, time to talk about my man-crush on John Elway

Okay, fine, just kidding. We’re gonna talk about Case Keenum.

All of Case’s numbers and accolades have been repeated so often that I think the Cougar faithful are almost becoming numb to it all, but that doesn’t make them any less impressive.

Keenum’s 5,020 yards passing in 2008 made him only the second player in Cougar history to reach 5,000 in a season – and the Cougars have a long, impressive lineage of prolific quarterbacks. Did I mention he was a sophomore last year? He was also the nation’s leader in total offense, and second nationally in passing yards. The coast is clear to lead in that category this year, too, as the only guy ahead of him – Graham Harrell – graduated. In a conference of prolific offensive talents, Keenum grabbed Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year.

Last year, Case’s accuracy and scoring touch improved greatly even from his C-USA Freshman of the Year-winning season. He threw 44 TDs, up from 14, and only threw one more interception (11 from 10) despite 326 more pass attempts.

If all of the gaudy statistics weren’t enough, Case has been unanimously heralded by the Cougar coaching staff as a true team leader in the weight room and the locker room.

Keenum has received plenty of publicity heading into the season, although perhaps not as much as would be the case if not for the return of higher-profile QBs such as Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, et al. If the Coogs can make a serious BCS-busting run in 2010, when those guys are playing on Sundays, the national media love will happen. Until then, enjoy the ride that Keenum and the Cougar offense will take you on this year.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the things that makes Keenum so effective is the incredible stable of talent around him. Bryce Beall forces the opposition defense to take the run seriously, and receivers like Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards often make Case’s biggest decision which open receiver he should throw to.

It’s all been said, and now it’s all been said again. Case Keenum is the man.

Edit: Looks like the national spotlight may be coming a little early. Check out a sweet write-up by the New York Times, just out today.

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ElViento: Obviously, I’ve been bogged down with work and personal crap, but I’m back on the countdown. Let’s get caught up as quickly as possible.

Monday, August 24th meant 12 days to Cougar football. Last year, junior punter Chase Turner dropped 12 punts inside the opposing team’s 20. That’s not a huge number, but consider that Turner didn’t even have enough punts to qualify for any punt yardage lists. Darn the Coogs and their effective offense. Had Turner qualified, he would have been fourth in the nation in punt average.

Turner has been something of a novelty since his sophomore season in ’07. Then-Chron beat writer Michael Murphy started “Hangtime’s” legend by raving about the punts the kid could pull off in practice. But when the bright lights turned on, Turner shanked ‘em. Every once in a while, the Cougar faithful would be treated to a boomer, but it was obvious throughout the year that Turner didn’t have it all figured out upstairs.

Enter a new coaching staff, one that thought it might actually be beneficial to hire a special teams coordinator. Entire Tony Levine, a guy with a bunch of special teams coaching experience at the collegiate and professional ranks. While the coffin corner kick is still, admittedly, the weakness in Turner’s game, his accuracy with dropping punts inside the 20 went up from 13% in 2007 (6 of 45) to 29% in ’08. The punt average increased from 42.7 to 45.5, as well.

And let me just say that a very underrated football moment is when your punter just absolutely booms one, and you get to watch the opposing team’s return man’s body language as he suddenly realizes that the punt is way over his head, and he has to turn and sprint to try and get to the ball.

If Turner can have some more of those, and continue to improve his accuracy with putting opposing teams deep inside their own territory, he’s a guy who could end up playing on Sundays. Not bad for a recently-converted soccer player.

Tuesday, August 25th meant 11 days until Cougar football. While I absolutely love following the Cougars, my secondary love is all other teams on all levels of football. Every fall, I take in as much high school, college and professional football as I can, because I absolutely love watching teams go 11-on-11.

While sports like baseball and basketball have been popularized first in America before taking off across the globe, football is one sport that has remained distinctly American. And while I love the international flavor of basketball, there’s something very rewarding about, say, watching an NFL draft and not worrying about how some skinny European kid will transition to the American game. For that matter, I like that there will never be a controversy about letting high schoolers enter the NFL draft. First you have to dominate at the high school level, then you must prove your chops at the college level before you have a chance to start over proving yourself on Sundays. So while people complain about the Michael Crabtrees of the world holding out before they’ve played an NFL down, I find that sort of thing infinitely preferable to one-and-done college basketball prima donnas.

Writing the college football previews for Scott & Holman has only increased the number of teams I have some knowledge of, and given me even more secondary rooting interests to the Cougars. It’s going to be a very fun year to be a college football fan.

Wednesday, August 26th meant 10 days to Cougar football. Today, I’d like to suggest that the Houston Cougars’ offense actually underachieved in 2008, and if they can fix some miscues, there’s no reason that the Cougars can’t lead college football in nearly every meaningful offensive statistic.

Everybody knows that the Cougars had the #2 offense in terms of total yardage last year, but did you know that they were only #10 in terms of scoring? Some red zone turnovers haunted the team at times, as it was occasionally apparent that, for all the gaudy numbers the team put up, they didn’t always “get” Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen’s offensive systems.

All accounts are that the players have a better grasp of the offense, nearly every significant offensive player returns (exceptions include Andre Kohn, Mark Hafner and Sebastian Vollmer), and there are talented newcomers who will contribute, such as JC-transfer wide receiver James Cleveland and true freshman running back Charles Sims.

Even with a tougher non-conference schedule this year, teams like Oklahoma State and Texas Tech aren’t expected to have shutdown defenses. The Cougar offense will put up numbers in those games, as well as against ho-hum Conference USA defensive groups.

Number one in yards and points this year for Houston? It’s definitely within the realm of possibility.

Thursday, August 27th meant 9 days to Cougar football. So why not take a look at John Skladany, now on his 9th football coaching job?

The Cougar defensive coordinator started his coaching duties way back in 1978 at Utica High in Ohio. He soon took a job at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, before taking his first division 1 job at Maine in 1981. When he got his first DC job at Iowa State in 1996 under Dan McCarney, his consistently strong defenses helped kick off one of the strongest periods of football in that school’s history. He helped direct the Cyclones to five bowl games in ten years, before McCarney was canned, and new coach Gene Chizik stupidly decided to let Skladany go.

Skladany had a one-year stop at C-USA rival Central Florida in 2007, where all he accomplished was leading the team to a conference championship, when his defense stonewalled the high-flying Tulsa offensive attack in the championship game, a 44-25 UCF victory.

And so Skladany ended up at Houston. While his defense was inconsistent in year one, it had some very impressive showings, like holding Tulsa to 30 points in the Cougars’ epic stomp of the Golden Hurricane. While Skladany – who also coaches the safeties – has a very inexperienced defense to work with, his track record suggests that he knows what he’s doing. He may be the biggest reason for optimism on the Cougar defense this year. Well, aside from guys like Marcus McGraw, Matt Nicholson and C.J. Cavness.

Finally, Friday, August 28th means (it’s so good to use the present tense) 8 days until Cougar football. In 2008, the Cougar special teams managed just 8 yards per punt return. (Actually 7.8)

That’s a surprisingly mediocre number for a Cougar kick return corps that is loaded with talent and track star speed.

While the Cougar offense can’t possibly get a whole lot better, the kick/punt return game could be poised for a breakout season. Special teams always seem to turn the tide in at least one game every year. I’d love it if Houston pulled out a narrow win over the likes of Texas Tech or Oklahoma State, and had a punt return TD from Tyron Carrier to thank. Why not?

That’s all for me for now. Thank God I’m caught up. I promise, you will never see a blogger work as hard as I will for the rest of this countdown to get my articles up on time. You will never see…okay, sorry, my inner Tim Tebow was coming out on that one. Let’s just end this with a GO COOGS!

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SarCoog: So I realized that it is now 13 days from the Houston Cougars season opener against Northwestern State of Louisiana… and I couldn’t tell you the first thing about the Demons.

Well I did a little research and here’s what I’ve found out about the NSU football program:

The Coach: Bradley Dale Peveto; 1st year (0-0 record); The longtime assistant Peveto is finally getting his first shot here as a collegiate head coach. Most recently Peveto was a co-defensive coordinator at LSU and he was also the defensive coordinator at NSU from 1996-98. One of the most interesting things I’ve read about him has been the “Peveto Promise”. Basically if you buy 2009 season tickets and you aren’t happy with the product on the field and the game experience 2 games into the season: you get a full refund. That’s really cool and I applaud Peveto and NSU for having the balls to do that. Also, Peveto brought OC Todd Cooley from Southland foe Central Arkansas where he orchestrated one of the most explosive passing attacks in Division 1-FCS. Also last year’s DC Brad Laird has been retained and will be joined be co-DC with Shawn Quinn, who followed Peveto from LSU.

The Offense: Considering they didn’t have a healthy signal caller for much of last season, the Demons didn’t do too badly for themselves: averaging 26.7 points/game. The offense mainly centered around the run game where they averaged 172.7 rushing yards per contest. New OC Cooley has stated that he will still run the ball, but wants to create a high-powered identity and has thus dubbed the offense: the Purple Strike. Senior QB John Hundley (112-205, 1,307 yards, 8 TD, 3 INT) is the most experienced signal caller and will be the starter against Houston. Also, a guy who’s shined in fall drills has been senior HB Willie Griffin (472 rushing yards, 4.3 yards/carry, 4 TD) and he should be the #1 back. The most experienced receiver will be senior WR Darius Duffy (19 receptions, 287 yards, 2 TD) and he’s described in his NSU profile as the team’s most “complete” receiver. The Demons did lose 3 of their top 4 receivers from a year ago. Senior C Marcus Washington will be the anchor of the Purple Strike at his center postion, but is versatile enough to play all 3 line positions. In addition to Washington, all of the 5 full-time offensive line starters from last year are back.

The Defense: As much as Cooley and the offense hope to build an identity, the NSU defenses already have the pressure of being the “Purple Swarm” and last year’s 28.2 points/game was not ‘Swarm worthy’. The name may be the same, but Peveto has the Demons playing a 4-3 defense for the first time since 2003. Senior S Wesley Eckles (89 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT) is the heart and soul of this defense, and a returning 1st team All Southland Conference selection. Joining Eckles in the defensive backfield is senior Gary Riggs (72 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 3 INT) who’s a preseason 1st team All Southland pick and had 2 defensive TDs in ’08. In the linebacking corps senior Blake Delcambre (69 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks) is a preseason 2nd team All Southland pick and will be joined by senior Rogers Loche (38 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack) and junior Colby Arceneaux (46 tackles, 0.5 TFL). Finally, up front junior DE Ledell Love (50 tackles, 11 TFL, 3.5 sacks) leads all returners in TFL and sacks. I know this, Peveto is a defensive guy and won’t stand for the Demons having a mediocre or substandard defense.

The Special Teams: As a former special teams coordinator I’m sure Peveto takes the defense even more seriously than your average head coach. The Demons do lose Robert Weeks who holds more than a few NSU kicking records. Junior Bradley Russo was the team’s top punter last year, although he averaged only 37.2 yards per punt. There isn’t an experienced kicker, so sophomore Nic Russo (no relation to Bradley) and freshman John Shaughnessy will battle for the job.

While I don’t expect the Demons to give the Cougars too much of a contest, this looks like it could be a good team. If the returning players do not have too much trouble with the new coaching staff and new schemes then they should content for the Southland title.

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ElViento: Sunday, August 23rd means 13 days until Cougar football. So today, we take a look at linebacker Marcus McGraw’s impressive effort in the Cougars’ Armed Forces Bowl in 2008. Why does McGraw check in at #13? Keep reading to find out.

But first, a report on the Houston Cougars’ first sporting event of the year: a soccer match with Texas-San Antonio on Sunday afternoon at Robertson Stadium.

It was only Houston’s first game because the would-be opener at Houston Baptist on Friday afternoon was cancelled due to weather concerns.

After falling behind 1-0 late in the first half on Sunday, the Cougars came storming out at the break, and freshman Avery Blasi highlighted a very impressive first college game by scoring on a rebound from a Jessica Zavalza shot.

Avery BlasiBlasi

Unfortunately, the game required two overtimes to unknot that score, and it was the Roadrunners of UTSA who ultimately had a little bit more gas left in the tank. Halee Hamm rebounded her own blocked shot to win it for San Antonio. Houston suffered the loss despite an 8-6 shot advantage in both halves, and a 2-1 edge in the first OT.

Following the 2-1 defeat, Houston travels to Texas-Austin on Friday. The Coogs’ next home game is September 11th against Texas State.

Despite the loss, there is reason for optimism. Some impressive performances were turned in by newcomers like Blasi and transfer midfielder Melanie Adelman. Sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Frazier also looked solid in her second career start, after replacing graduated senior Shelby Scott. In general, the team looked more in-sync and attack-minded on offense, and seemed to create more opportunities than last year’s team tended to do. Let’s hope more of those chances become goals in the upcoming games.

Back to the countdown. On New Year’s Eve, 2008, the Cougars ended a 28-year bowl victory drought with a 34-28 win over Air Force. It was the lowest point total put up by Houston in a win in 2008, a touchdown shy of the 41 points scored in the epic beatdown of East Carolina. Case Keenum threw for “just” 252 yards, the only game of the year he failed to reach 300 yards through the air.

But it was the Cougar defense which held the vaunted Air Force run game to just 3.6 yards per carry, allowing the offense to do just enough for the win.

Leading the defensive charge was the true freshman McGraw, whose 13 solo tackles (your patience has been rewarded) were a game-high.

Now a sophomore and recently-elected team captain, McGraw leads a talented linebacking corps, after finishing the season with 103 total tackles. But he has help.

Despite losing the productive Cody Lubojasky, the Cougars might have the best group of starting linebackers in Conference USA. Senior Matt Nicholson is back and stronger than ever after missing the last four games of the year with injury. The third starter is C.J. Cavness, a former walk-on like Nicholson, who ended up playing in all thirteen games last year, including four as a starter for Nicholson. Despite just four starts, Cavness racked up an impressive 77 tackles, good for fourth-best on the Coogs.

While the McGraw-Nicholson-Cavness trio looks fearsome, the depth behind them is a question mark. Senior and former JuCo transfer Nicholas Thurston (11 tackles in 8 games in ’08) has been getting second-team reps, and will see some of the field. After that, not much is certain.

The linebackers are coached by Leon Burtnett, who came on in 2008 with Kevin Sumlin, and previously held the same position at Washington State. Burtnett’s experience goes back much further than that, however. He has held four different division 1-A defensive coordinator jobs, and was even head coach at Purdue during Sumlin’s playing days.

If the Cougar defense is to exceed expectations in 2009, expect it all to start with a tremendously productive group of linebackers.

Countdown photo of the day, #13, Lucy Charuk

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ElViento: Saturday, August 22nd means 14 days until Cougar football, so today we look at senior kicker, #14 Ben Bell.

Bell battles sophomore Jordan Mannisto for the starting kicking duties this year. Bell hit 10-15 field goals, while the stronger-legged Mannisto mostly handled kickoff duties. Mannisto’s 61-yard average on kickoffs led the team, as did his 4 touchbacks. At the end of the year, he hit two of three field goal attempts, as well. Mannisto might get the starting nod for field goals this year, or it could be a platoon, with Bell taking shorter field goals, and Mannisto taking longer attempts.

To be honest, the kicker position is a spot that scares me on the Cougars. Mannisto lacks experience on field goals, and Bell missed three attempts inside thirty yards on the year. The longest field goal kicked by either man on the year was 37 yards.

Here’s hoping to see improvement from both, here’s hoping they kick far more extra points than field goals, and here’s hoping neither has to experience the ECU nightmare of a year ago.

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