ElViento: The Cougar receiving corps is loaded this year. That much is certain. However, if one was inclined to look for a reason to be concerned about that position for the Cougars, one could consider the impact of the loss of Mark Hafner.
My lasting impression of Hafner is that he always seemed to come up with the first down catch in third down situations. Those clutch catches, it seemed to me, always kept key offensive drives moving. If the Cougars are missing anything this year from the receiving corps, maybe it’ll be that ability to make the clutch 3rd down catch for a first down.
Well, I decided to see just how much of that first down-earning production the Cougars are, in fact, losing. On the way, I took a look at some other interesting facts about how Cougars picked up first downs in 2008.
A huge thank you to SarCoog and Scott & Holman ally DeesNuts for help with the research on this.
(Two things to keep in mind concerning the following data: They do not include touchdowns, although those are technically first downs. Also, they do not include first downs thrown, only caught or carried. So Case Keenum, for example, gets credit for running for a first down, but not passing for one.)
- The Cougars made 304 first downs in 2008, of which they lost 77 (25%) to graduation, injuries, and other attrition. They lost 29% of receiving first downs, and 22% of rushing first downs.
- First down-making players lost: Hafner (41), Andre Kohn (29), Blake Joseph (5), Jackie Hinton, Jr. (2).
- Top returning first down makers: Bryce Beall (63), Tyron Carrier (44), Patrick Edwards (25), Keenum (20), Chaz Rodriguez (16), L.J. Castile (12), Kierrie Johnson (10).
- In 2008, the Cougars earned 61% of their first downs on passes, 33% on rushes, and 6% on penalties.
- The Cougars got most first downs on second down plays (113), followed by first down plays (107), third down plays (77) and fourth down plays (7).
- Hafner did catch the most passes for a first down, with 41, followed closely by Carrier with 38, and Edwards with 23.
- So let’s get down to brass tacks. Our original idea was to check how much Hafner meant for earning first downs through the air on third down: Hafner caught 11 first down passes on third down, Kohn caught 3. In total, Houston picked up a first down through the air on third down 50 times, so 28% of that was lost. Since they lost 29% of their overall receiving first down production…the Hafner clutch first down catching on third down thing was probably just an illusion. Hafner was just a great receiver for us all-around, but one I think the Cougars can replace with newcomers like James Cleveland, A.J. Dugat, and general improvement from all the returners. (As well as, hopefully, an entire year of health for Edwards.)
- The thing that surprised me the most about this whole process was the first down-making prowess of Kohn. Despite losing his starting job to Beall early in the year, Kohn was still responsible for the fourth-most team first downs, proof that the back-up halfback is very important, even in a spread offense like Houston’s. So don’t discount the possible impact true freshman Charles Sims could have on the offense this year.