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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Football

Holgorsen, UH set to face WSU in AdvoCareTexas Kickoff


Dana Holgorsen will face his old friend this weekend — Washington State head coach Mike Leach. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

Things were much different the last time the Cougars prowled into NRG Stadium for the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff.

Tom Herman, now in Austin with the Longhorns, was still head coach, was a few months removed from the program’s first and only American Athletic Conference Championship and its Peach Bowl win against then-No. 9 Florida State that launched the team to national prominence.

Former defensive tackle Ed Oliver, now with the Buffalo Bills, was just a true freshman, and current head coach Dana Holgorsen was cruising to a 26-11 win with West Virginia over Missouri on the other side of the country.

While much has changed since Houston’s 2016 win over then-No. 3 Oklahoma in the Texans home, the Cougars are going into its matchup versus No. 20 Washington State hoping for the same result.

“We have a huge challenge Friday night,” Holgorsen said at his weekly news conference Monday morning. “We have a huge challenge. We’re playing on a big stage Friday night, and I think we’ll respond well.”

Given the scheduling and differing magnitudes of UH’s first two games, its third against WSU can get interesting.

First test

Although the Cougars are heading into its third game of the season, it has been difficult to gauge exactly at what level the team is at.

The two games they’ve played have been complete opposites. One, their 49-31 loss to Oklahoma, was against the fourth ranked team in the nation, while the other, a 37-17 win versus Prairie View A&M, had them going against an FCS team that went 5-6 overall in 2018.

Heading into the matchup, Washington State has had two weak opponents.

Its first two games, both wins, were against the independent New Mexico State Aggies and FCS-level Northern Colorado Bears.

The two teams have a lot at risk in terms of how their resume will look when College Football Playoff rankings and bowl season come along, and a win over the other would boost the optics for UH and WSU’s respective quarterbacks.

High-powered quarterbacks

In Week 1 senior quarterback D’Eriq King went up against OU senior quarterback Jalen Hurts, who scored six touchdowns in his team’s win. Week 2 saw three Prairie View A&M quarterbacks put up almost 250 passing yards in Houston’s victory.

The Cougars have faced two tough quarterback battles already.

Week 3 will be no different.

Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon, in his senior season with WSU, has thrown for almost 900 yards and nine touchdowns in his team’s two blowout wins, which highlights one of the main differences between the California native and King.

Gordon’s primary form of attack is through the air, which has worked out well for Washington State, but King, being 2018’s highest-scoring dual-threat quarterbacks, can produce on the ground.

King has rushed for only 131 yards through Houston’s first two games, yet his three rushing touchdowns, including two in the Prairie View A&M win, lead the team.

Houston’s MVP, as deemed by his coach, is still adjusting to Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense.

WSU’s man under center, meanwhile, is not.

And who’s to blame?  Washington State’s head coach Mike Leach is an old friend of Holgorsen, and is the man responsible for popularizing the offensive scheme that UH’s head coach has relied on his entire coaching career. 

Friends and foes

Leach, who Holgorsen worked under from 2000-07 at Texas Tech, is still making use of the Air Raid offense he began crafting along with current XFL coach Hal Mumme at Valdosta State more than 25 years ago.

Holgorsen was still young when the spread offense was created by the two, but he is glad he eventually became involved with Leach and Mumme’s creation.

“It would take too long to describe this,” Holgorsen said. “I was fortunate enough to be a part of the beginnings of it. Him and Hal are the ones that got all this stuff together. I was in high school when those guys got together and started developing this stuff.

Leach has praised Holgorsen’s coaching in the past, telling ESPN in 2018, “However smart you think he is, he’s smarter than that.”

The two coaches have remained friends long after their days working together ended, Holgorsen said in the offseason. His hiring in January led to a cancelled trip to the Bahamas with Leach after the two were pitted against each other.

“I was supposed to go to the Bahamas with Leach, and I cancelled,” Holgorsen said in August. “When you play each other like that you just really don’t hangout.”

Much of what Holgorsen learned under Leach was on display when the coach was last with Houston ten years ago.

In his first stint with the Cougars from 2008-09, when he was offensive coordinator under then-head coach Kevin Sumlin, Holgorsen utilized the scheme to make former quarterback Case Keenum one of the best in the country.

Keenum in 2009 threw for 5,671 yards, which lead the nation by over 1,400.

Friday night’s game will not be Holgorsen’s first confrontation with Leach.The Susanville, California native came to UH as TTU’s head coach for a 2009 game the Cougars won 29-28 — but Houston’s coach believes the matchup is beneficial for both schools.

“I think it’s a good storyline,” Holgorsen said. “It’s good for y’all and good for the entertainment aspect.”

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