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Houston has ‘chance to be really good’ as 2020 anticipation grows

Head coach Dana Holgorsen joined Clayton Tune and Payton Turner to represent Houston's football team during the second of three UH Coaches Caravan Zoom sessions. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Daily Cougar

Head coach Dana Holgorsen joined Clayton Tune and Payton Turner to represent Houston’s football team during the second of three UH Coaches Caravan Zoom sessions. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Daily Cougar

Houston has plenty to prove after a lackluster first season under head coach Dana Holgorsen, but the team is filled with optimism as it gets closer to starting year two and expects to turn the corner much sooner than anticipated.

“It’s rare to get a bunch of excitement on the heels of a 4-8 season,” Holgorsen said during the second UH Coaches Caravan. “But that’s not what we want. It’s not what we are about, and I can’t wait to get a product out there that everyone is going to be proud of.”

Before the American Athletic Conference suspended all athletic activities back in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Houston had already started its spring practices and completed nine of them, allowing the team to gauge the talent level they have for the upcoming season.

“If our spring ball is any indication, we fixed a lot,” Holgorsen said. “We have a chance to be really good.”

One position group the head coach believes will be in an improved unit from a season ago is the offensive line.

“We are going to be in better shape this year than we were last year,” said Holgorsen on the line. “I can assure you of that.”

As for the position that the offensive line is charged with protecting, Holgorsen is also excited with what quarterback Clayton Tune can do after being thrown right into the gauntlet a season ago when then starter D’Eriq King announced he was redshirting his senior year.

“I’m glad he’s a Coog right now,” Holgorsen said. “I think we’re all going to be happy that he is our quarterback leading us for the next two years.”

The 6-foot-3 junior threw 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2019, and he says that he has adjusted to the level of competition of college football.

“It’s slowed down a lot … I have gotten more comfortable with the speed of the game,” Tune said. “It’s just getting reps. You can watch all the film you want. It’s all about getting live reps and getting in there and seeing it for yourself.”

A key spot that will aid Tune during the season will be the running back position, which will be led by Kyle Porter.

On Tuesday evening, Holgorsen revealed that the program is still actively recruiting players at that spot because of the toll that playing it throughout the season takes on players’ bodies.

“That position has a lot of wear and tear on it so you better have four or five backs through the course of the year,” Holgorsen said. “(It is) still a position we’re actively recruiting … because you need a lot of those guys.”

As for the defensive side of the ball, which struggled in 2019 as the Cougars gave up 30 or more points in eight of their 12 games, the optimism is also shared for the upcoming season.

“There’s a lot more organization in the second year,” said defensive lineman Payton Turner. “It was hard last year to fully trust the coaches, but with the second year, it’s easier to trust them (and work harder for them).”

The 6-foot-6 lineman loved the fight he saw from the defense during the spring practices.

“We didn’t have as much production upfront as we wanted (in 2019),” Turner said. “(But) we have everyone returning. There is (also) more competitiveness in the back end. The DB’s just (had) everyday competition… there was someone always doing something great, so it was really fun to see.”

While the team does still does not know for certain when they will be able to perform on the field as athletic director Chris Pezman reiterated his mid-to-late June target date to make a decision on fall sports, the excitement for the new season was the message shared during the Zoom meeting.

“Our team is in a really good place right now,” Holgorsen said.

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