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Monday, November 20, 2017

Football

Quarterback finds fresh start as Cougars’ signal-caller


Newly-named starting quarterback Kyle Allen threw just seven incompletions en route to a 19-16 victory over the Arizona Wildcats. | Courtesy UH Athletics

Junior quarterback Kyle Allen trots onto the field to begin the Cougars’ first offensive drive of the 2017 season. Surveying the defense as each defender settles into position, he appears calm and collected when he begins to adjust his offensive line, struggling to holler over the roaring masses that fill Arizona Stadium.

Allen hasn’t seen game action since Nov. 28, 2015, when he took his final snap for the Texas A&M Aggies. In what was a highly unusual and unexpected turn of events, Allen announced on Dec. 6 of that year his plan to transfer to UH ahead of the team’s participation in the 2015 Music City Bowl later that month.

Due to NCAA rules, Allen was sidelined the entire 2016 season while fan-favorite QB Greg Ward Jr. finished his remarkable run as the leader of the Cougars’ offense.

With Ward gone and the new depth chart set, Allen hands the ball off to his running back to begin a new season and era of UH football.

“It felt great, that’s what I was telling all my teammates,” Allen said. “I was like, ‘I’m just ready to get hit for the first time,’ you know what I mean? Just get those bugs out of you and get back in the game. I haven’t played in a year and a half, and it was really good to get back out there with a new squad and a lot of guys that I’m really close with and trust a lot.”

Tumultuous beginning

The 21-year-old’s time at A&M was strange.

As the top-ranked QB in the nation coming out of Desert Mountain High School, Allen committed to the Aggies in June 2013. Many expected him to fill the shoes of departed Heisman Trophy-winning QB Johnny Manziel, which arguably set the highly-touted freshman up for failure from the jump.

“I think the culture was a big part of it, and I think that stems from Johnny’s era there—the way that they let Johnny and (others) act there,” Allen said in a February 2016 interview with CBSsports.com. “They (could) do that and still win games because they had Johnny … and five offensive linemen playing in the NFL right now.”

Although he was not the starter in his first A&M season, the 6-foot-3 pro-style QB was thrust into the lead role when the Aggies dropped three consecutive games in October 2014. He led the team to a 3-2 record in their remaining games, including an MVP-winning performance in its 2014 Liberty Bowl victory.

Months later, a 5-0 start to the 2015 season had Allen and the Aggies ranked No. 9 in the country in advance of playing the No. 10 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Unfortunately, three interceptions—all returned for scores—later, Allen was pulled from the game for the highly-recruited freshman Kyler Murray.

The two would yo-yo back and forth in the starting role, leading to a 3-5 finish to the season and the eventual transfer of both QBs.

Positioned to succeed

Now in Houston, Allen finds himself in a role that offers security and the opportunity to learn from head coach Major Applewhite. The first year head coach’s experience as a former standout QB allows him to understand the game from Allen’s perspective and make necessary corrections.

Allen admittedly showed signs of rust in his first game back, but overall was efficient in the offense. A careless fumble early that stayed in the Cougars’ possession coupled with a pair of picks in the second half tarnished what was otherwise a welcomed opening-game performance against the Wildcats on Saturday night.

Applewhite was impressed with Allen’s poised attitude in adversity during the team’s win.

“I thought he did fine,” Applewhite said following Saturday’s game.

“He managed (interceptions) well, controlled himself well and continued to take care of the football. Most quarterbacks are competitive. They just need to take care of the ball in the right situations, and he took care of the ball well.”

Looking ahead

Overall, the new Cougar signal-caller completed 25 of 32 passes for 225 yards, a TD and a 19-16 victory over a Power Five conference-member opponent.

His performance serves as a beacon of hope that the Cougars will not experience the drop-off that sometimes occurs when a team changes QBs in the offseason.

If he can continue to grow as a player, Allen has a chance to show the nation what he is capable of when placed in the right situation.

“I felt like I did pretty well today,” Allen said following the game. “My completion rate was high. I had two interceptions, which is never what you want, but they were correctable things. I don’t think it was detrimental. There’s a lot of room for improvement in decision making and certain situations.”

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