SILENT ASSASSIN: UH offensive line suffers setbacks
Most fans and media will agree that quarterback is the most important position on a football team.
But ask UH sophomore quarterback Case Keenum what position he values above his own, and he’ll probably point to his left tackle. Next, he’ll point to his left guard and center. Before you know it, he’ll have named all five starters of his offensive line.
Fortunately for Keenum, his starting left tackle, senior Sebastian Vollmer, is still healthy. Other offensive linemen, however, have lately fallen victim to the injury bug, and this has become a major issue for the Cougars (4-4, 3-1 Conference USA).
Senior starting right tackle SirVincent Rogers is out for the season with a stress fracture in his foot. His backup, junior Josh Bell, tore an Achilles tendon in last Tuesday’s 37-23 loss to Marshall and is also lost for the season. Redshirt freshman starting left guard Chris Thompson is still recovering from an appendectomy. This leaves the Cougars with only three of their original starting offensive linemen.
Think the Cougars’ success on offense depends solely on how well Keenum plays? If so, then you must not have seen footage of the Cougars’ loss to Marshall.
The Thundering Herd’s front four defenders played chess with the Cougars’ offensive line, winning on nearly every occasion. Keenum was sacked four times (another was taken away because of an offside penalty on Marshall), hurried three times and flushed out of the pocket on several other instances. Only his elusiveness and quick thinking saved him from being slammed into the ground at least two or three other times.
The Thundering Herd had an easy time of getting to Keenum and stopping ball carriers before they could leave the backfield. Marshall did its best damage in the first half, where it held the Cougars to only 130 total yards (11 rushing) and a field goal.
A lot of that had to do with the pressure that Marshall generated on the edges, particularly on the right side, where Thundering Herd sophomore defensive end Michael Janac had a field day against Bell and his replacement, junior tackle Matt Hart. Janac had 1.5 sacks (the offside penalty took away another), nine tackles (3.5 for loss) and a forced fumble.
The end result of this poor play by the offensive line was an equally poor offensive output and another bumbling loss. Things don’t appear to be getting any better, and this isn’t good news for a team that still needs two more wins to become bowl-eligible for the fifth time in six seasons.
The Cougars pride themselves on having a quick-strike offense that can put up points in bunches, but this is going to become even more difficult if the injuries keep piling up on the offensive line. Keenum, who has been sacked seven times in the last two games, won’t have enough time to look for open receivers if he’s always having to run from hungry pass rushers. The running game won’t be as fluid if the linemen can’t open holes and keep linebackers and defensive linemen from bursting into the backfield.
Keenum was clearly rattled against Marshall. He threw two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions that both led to Marshall touchdowns. Without better protection, fans can expect more of this uneven play from Keenum.
Sure, the Cougars have plenty of key injuries in other areas, including at wide receiver and on the defensive line. However, they should be able to overcome these injuries.
But any more injuries along the offensive line could see the Cougars struggle to win any of their four remaining regular-season games.