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Four Down Territory Recap: Houston Cougars

Four downs, four takeaways from last Saturday!

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

This is a new way to handle the recaps, and one I am still experimenting with. I may still do a traditional recap write-up going forward, but I wanted to try this first and see how it feels!

Without further ado, here are the four big takeaways from the thriller in Lubbock against the Houston Cougars!

First Down: The offensive line is a liability

Donovan Smith did take at least two sacks he should not have. I want to be clear from the jump that the young QB did not work the pocket well at times and absolutely had plays he got himself into trouble. However, that would still leave at least four sacks on the line and a mess of pressures Smith deftly avoided by rolling out or rushing.

This was the worst the line has looked since that Oklahoma State game last season. There is not much you can really do to scheme around this, for the system to work you have to be able to block 3 or 4 down linemen. If not, expect a heavy dose of running the ball and screen/quick routes. Jack and I talked about this, this group needs to find another gear to hit because a lot of these pressures were just guys getting bullrushed one-on-one and not something you can fix with better communication.

Second Down: Coach McGuire teams are built different

I stand by this statement 100%: If Matt Wells was coaching this game, you lose. Yes, I know Wells rallied the troops last year. But 1) UH was worse in my opinion and 2) it was game one and once the rust was off the jets turned on. Wells could never had convinced his team with 40 seconds left they were going to push the game into OT. McGuire carries himself with more confidence, and the team feeds off of that and genuinely believes they can win.

True leaders instill that kind of quite confidence in their guys. McGuire does it, and he also instilled the toughness to shake off the bad plays and bad luck. His era in Lubbock is off to the perfect start.

3rd Down: Situational playcalling needs some work

There were great playcalls in this game, for instance that first scripted drive was really well handled. Throughout the first half, other than maybe a few too many QB powers called, the playcalling was on the money. Ball was out quick, drives were extended and finished off, and it looked smooth.

But after UH adjusted to what Tech was doing, the Red Raider offense started to sputter. It felt like Kittley started to press as drives started to stall out before reaching pay dirt (missed FGs not helping either). The trick play that killed a drive’s momentum, running Smith more often straight ahead instead of handing off to Brooks, and do not get me started on the final sequence that let UH get ahead.

This was not a bad playcalling performance objectively, and I want to acknowledge that with a backup QB and an offensive line this was a tough challenge. But I grade this out at a C for the offensive coordinator, because in key situations the playcalling needs to be crisper. Bright side, you can see how good of a mind Kittley is and you know he won’t make the same mistakes twice. He has more film of his offense against real competition, he will adjust and I suspect he will be grading out much higher next week.

Some of you may disagree, and that is fine too! Execution and maybe the audibles at the line definitely impact this. But an OC is responsible for his offense. Sky is the limit for Kittley in Lubbock, one inconsistent called game does not change that.

Fourth Down: The defense is legit

Tune was pressured early and often, he was bottled up and harassed, and his receivers rarely got separation. This was an outstanding performance from the defense. The secondary will be tested again this weekend against a legitimate future NFL QB, but I feel much better about their chances now. The eye discipline was far better, and there was far better communication on the backend.

The front seven, man I could rave about these guys for hours. Just outstanding effort every snap, and the individual play of the linebackers to contain a mobile QB deserves additional love. Wilson is as good as advertised, the rest of the front seven is even better than we hoped.

And big shoutout to Coach DeRuyter for his playcalling. He was burned a few times on screens for his aggression, but he trusted his guys to get after it. Pressures were called in a timely manner, coverages had Tune flustered, and he never gave UH a chance to settle their offense into a rhythm. We may just have ourselves some dogs on defense.