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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Football

Brian Johnson, Kyle Allen aim to lead Cougar offense


The Cougar offense will be captained by two different faces come the 2017 season in offensive coordinator Brian Johnson and early favorite for the starting quarterback position, redshirt junior Kyle Allen. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

With 10 practices left before the Red and White game on April 15, the Cougars returned to action on Tuesday following a week off for spring break. In part two of the series leading up to the game, the Cougars break down an offense that saw changes at both their on-field and off-field leaders.

With the promotion of Major Applewhite to head coach and graduation of quarterback Greg Ward Jr, the Cougars have major holes to fill on offense.

Major replacement

Replacing Applewhite as offensive coordinator and play caller is newcomer Brian Johnson. A Baytown native, Johnson returns home to Houston after spending the past three seasons as the quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State.

“The transition has been pretty seamless,” Johnson said. “It’s very similar to the program I was at previously, in terms of the culture and the expectations from the staff and the players and the alignment of the coaching staff.”

During his time with the Bulldogs, Johnson became known for mentoring current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Under Johnson, the Bulldogs had the No. 2 ranked offense in the SEC, averaging 6,129 total yards, 3,492 in the air.

Prior to joining Mississippi State, Johnson spent four seasons as an assistant at Utah, the last as offensive coordinator. At just 24, Johnson had become the youngest offensive coordinator in the nation.

After graduating from Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown, Johnson was a sought after QB recruit, eventually choosing Utah and coach Urban Meyer. He led the Utes to a 27-6 record as a starter, including an upset over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, becoming the winningest QB in Utah history.

Johnson takes over a unit that ranked No. 41 in the NCAA in 2016 with 443.4 yards per game, but will have to decide who to lead the offense on the field.

Life after Ward

Over the past two seasons, Cougar fans have been in awe of the performance by Ward Jr. A magician with both his arm and legs, Ward finished his career with 8,705 passing yards and 2,375 rushing yards while scoring 93 total touchdowns.

With Ward graduating and moving on to the NFL, the Cougars have a question of who will be the next signal caller. The early favorite is former Texas A&M starter, redshirt junior Kyle Allen.

“Greg (Ward) was an unbelievable player when the play broke down,” Allen said. “Obviously I’m not near the athlete Greg is but I think that I bring a lot to the table from the mental side and from the pocket presence side and I’ve learned a lot from Greg in that.”

In two seasons at A&M, Allen, the No. 1 quarterback prospect of the 2014 recruiting class, started 14 games while competing with others for the starting job — first with Kenny Hill, then with Kyler Murray.

On the field, Allen totaled 3,532 passing yards with 33 touchdowns against 14 interceptions, compiling a 9-5 record as a starter. After the 2015 season, he announced he was transferring to Houston.

Due to transferring, Allen sat out all of the 2016 season, leading the scout team against one of the top defenses in the country.

“I think last year gave me time to reflect and really grow as a person and as a player and become the man I am right now,” he said. “It was tough, but at the end of it I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Easily the most experienced of the QB group at Houston, Allen will compete for the starting job with senior Kyle Postma and sophomore D’Eriq King. Postma is missing all of spring recovering from last season’s injury, while King is limited after tearing his meniscus prior to the Las Vegas Bowl.

Allen knows if he is to win the job in the fall, he has to prove it this spring.

“I think when you have in-game experience, when you get in that game the next time it’s so much different than watching on film,” Allen said. “If you throw a pick in game experience you don’t get that back, it’s not like practice. I think all my games played in college station have helped and shaped me into the QB I am today.”

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