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Analysis: Eight takeaways after eight quarters of play

Junior quarterback D’Eriq King has 10 touchdowns this season, seven through the air and three on the ground. | Corbin Ayres/The Cougar

The Cougars are off to a hot start this season after a comeback win against cross-town rival Rice and a dominant win over the Pac-12’s Arizona.

After a full eight quarters and 120 minutes of action, here are eight takeaways from the first two games.

Offensive line is living up to expectations

Every member of the starting offensive line is either a junior or a senior, and they have been using their size and experience to out-muscle defenders.

In an earlier interview with The Cougar, senior center Will Noble said the line will try its best to replicate last year’s stellar line play and, so far, they have delivered.

The offensive line has not allowed a single sack while the team has 574 passing yards and 554 rushing yards.

Last season, the line allowed zero sacks in five different games and the team ran for 2002 yards and threw for 3156 yards. The Cougars are on pace to surpass both of those numbers this season.

King continues to deliver

Junior quarterback D’Eriq King has thrown for seven touchdowns this season and ran for another three. He would have more were it not for a few dropped passes by receivers in both games.

King is playing with discipline and poise, while making tough passes that have made it hard for defenders to stop UH receivers. King has not thrown an interception yet this season and has just two in his career compared to 15 throwing touchdowns.

“He’s such a great leader, he’s tough, he’s been through adversity being told he is too short his whole life. For him to have that kind of game is not a surprise to us in the locker room,” said head coach Major Applewhite.

Receivers need to finish plays

Houston had opportunities to score on perfectly thrown deep balls multiple times in the Rice and Arizona games, but drops prevented that.

The Cougars left at least 120 yards on the field from dropped passes that would have put King in the top 10 passing yards in the nation.

It is a simple thing to work on, but it is something the team needs to fix before it faces the stronger teams on its schedule like USF and Memphis, when every point matters.

New system is working

Part of the offensive line’s and King’s success is due to the quick nature of Houston’s new offensive system. As fans saw in the game against Arizona, a quarterback can only do so much if the system around him is not suited for his skill set.

The high-tempo offense is keeping defenses on the back foot and the hot, humid conditions of Houston made it hard for Arizona to keep up late in the game.

The team’s 90 points are the highest in its first two games since 2010 , when it scored 68 points against Texas State and 54 points against UTEP.

“This offense is great, it tries to get everybody involved. Just finding different ways to get different playmakers the ball,” King said.

Houston’s fast offense also means King is not sitting in the pocket for a long time, which would make it more likely for a sack to occur.

Defense is putting on pressure

The Cougars’ run defense stats are not perfect, but the line has come up with big stops when it matters most.

The Cougars have four sacks this season, and sophomore Isaiah Chambers is tied for second in the nation with three.

Junior defensive tackle Ed Oliver has 18 tackles and six quarterback hurries this season, and senior linebackers Roman Brown and Austin Robinson have 19 each.

“Just doing my job. However I can contribute to the team, whether I got to take three guys and let everybody else make plays, then that’s my role on the team,” Oliver said.

But secondary needs a little help

Despite the pressure and the sacks, Houston sits at No. 121 in passing yards allowed per game.

The secondary has come up with some big plays, but is has not been enough to slow defenses much. That is not to say the secondary is without merit.

Senior safety Garrett Davis had two inceptions against Arizona and increased the Cougars’ season total to three. The team is on track to surpass the 15 inceptions it had last year.

The defense also had multiple pass breakups in key moments, but any time a team is allowing 365 yards a game, you can’t help but be worried.

Defense needs depth

Part of Arizona’s success through the air came from the fact that it was facing Houston’s second- string defense.

“We were trying to work some substitutions into the third and fourth quarter. That will be a point of emphasis (when reviewing film),” Applewhite said. “When we took some (of) our starters out, there was a lapse in focus and a lapse in production. We have to be a deep team.”

Applewhite said he needs to play his second- and third-string players more so they can grow and learn, even if it is a bitter pill to swallow.

Arizona trailed 0-38 at one point but fought back when Houston lost focus and started using its backups.

But a lapse in focus is not a new phenomenon with the Cougars. Last season, Houston led Memphis 17-0 at the half but lost focus in the second half and eventually lost 42-38.

It is a bad habit that is not exclusive to the Cougars, but it’s one that an elite team should not be making.

Defense rolling

With all that said, the main defense allowed just three points in four quarters of play across the two games.

After shaking off the rust in the first half of the Rice game, Houston allowed just three points in the second half. In the first half of the Arizona game, the team allowed zero points before slipping up in the third and fourth.

It was the first half shutout of the season, which UH had three of last year against Rice, Temple and Memphis.

If the defense can maintain that form for an entire game, it will find itself among the elite defenses in college football.

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