For Cougars, football season was oh so sweet
The 2015-2016 season is in the books, and as the calendar turns to a new year, we have a chance to look back and dissect just what made the Cougars the dominant team they were in Tom Herman’s first season.
Coming from the Ohio State University, Herman brought with him a high level of excitement and great expectations for this team to take the next step, something they delivered on.
Herman amassed a great staff of assistant coaches around him and they pushed the team hard from day one, leading many players to say they’ve never practiced as hard as they did under their new coach.
The result from the hard work and countless hours in the preseason was visible on the field as the Cougars won their first five games by a combined margin of 101 points.
The offense, behind junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr., chugged along at a record pace, as 10 of their 13 wins were by double digits.
Ward passed for 2,828 yards, while rushing for 1,108 yards and combining for 38 scores through the air and on the ground. He also had a passing efficiency rating of 148.9 for the season, with just six interceptions against his 17 passing scores.
Senior running back Kenneth Farrow, while spending part of the season injured, still managed to add 958 yards rushing in his final season at UH, adding 12 touchdowns and rushing for an average of 79.8 yards per game.
Junior receiver Demarcus Ayers , the favorite target of Ward throughout the year, caught 98 passes on the season for 1,222 yards and six scores, to pair with junior receiver Chance Allen’s 752 receiving yards on 56 grabs for six touchdowns, giving the UH offense a pair of potent wide-out options.
While the offense received much of the recognition early on, the defense played a vital part in keeping the Cougars in games throughout the year.
Despite shifting into a new defensive system under defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, the defense didn’t miss a beat, as it collected 35 turnovers on the year, 21 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries.
The UH defense ranked second in the nation at the end of the season in turnover margin with a plus-21 mark, one behind first-placed San Diego State University.
The run defense was also one of the best in the country, ranking eighth nationally, allowing just 108.9 yards per game, an average of 3.18 yards per carry.
The Third Ward defense even did well putting points on the board themselves, as they added four defensive touchdowns, good for a tie for eighth in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
But all these statistics would be forgotten if the team ended up with another 8-5 season, or worse. Herman and the Cougars made the most of their talent, making a run all the way to the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, collecting their first conference title since 2006 and their first American Athletic Conference title.
A win over Florida State University in the Peach Bowl cemented what was a banner year for the program, one of the best in program history by almost any standard, and a good introduction for Herman.
The Cougars even found their way into the AP Top 10 after their post-season victory, moving up into 8th place after their bowl victory, something that hadn’t happened since 1990.
The success on the field was new for many Cougar fans, but Herman and the Cougars will be hoping this isn’t a one-year trend, instead looking to continue this for years to come.
Despite losing some offensive and defensive starters, Ward will be returning for the Cougars, and injuries along the offensive line offered some experience and playing time to a number of underclassmen.
Allen, the second-leading receiver, will be returning for his senior season, despite the early departure of Ayers.
The defense perhaps suffers the biggest losses, as a number of key seniors are departing, including lock-down corner William Jackson III and stand-out safety and Jack Boyz feature Trevon Stewart.
But with the strong recruiting push by Herman and his staff to reload the team with a number of four and five-star prospects, the Cougars should be ready for another run next season, with their sights set on yet another conference title and maybe even another New Year’s Six bowl bid.
For now, they will enjoy the fruits of their labors from the season, and enjoy the title of Peach Bowl champions.