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Keeping it simple: Dana Holgorsen goal is to “win games” in 2021

UH football head coach Dana Holgorsen on the field pregame before his team battled against Tulane in the 2020 season opener. | Courtesy of UH athletics

UH football head coach Dana Holgorsen on the field pregame before his team battled against Tulane in the 2020 season opener. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Houston football head coach Dana Holgorsen fielded questions from the media late Wednesday morning during the American Athletic Conference’s virtual 2021 football media day.

With the Cougars going 7-13 in their first two seasons under Holgorsen, UH fans have begun to grow restless wondering if and when the football program would carry its own weight and exhibit the on-field success that many of the University’s other athletic programs have recently shown.

Holgorsen was asked what the football team needed to do in 2021 to turn the program around.

Pretty much win games,  Holgorsen said. We’ll put that at the top of the list.

While Holgorsen’s answer stated the obvious, he knows winning, which has eluded the Cougars in many ways, shapes and forms over the past two years, is the only thing that will get the program back into the national conversation regarding the country’s top football programs.

With a few exceptions, UH’s losses over the last two seasons have not been a result of being outmatched in every facet of the game by its opponents. Rather, the inability to play a full 60 minutes of football has plagued the Cougars.

The box scores from almost any of the Cougars’ losses under Holgorsen make it clear that the team failed to play up to their fullest capabilities and compete from the opening kickoff all the way through the game’s final whistle.

But year three in the Holgorsen era is the year that both the head coach and his team are confident that the Cougars’ fortunes will change because of the experience, depth and hunger to win that the roster is loaded with.

Tune and year three

Everything starts with junior quarterback Clayton Tune. The junior has started 17 games for the Cougars over the past three seasons.

Speaking from previous experience, Holgorsen said he has seen the biggest jump in improvement from his quarterbacks during their third year and he expects Tune will follow in that pattern.

(Tune) has got a lot of reps logged in practice and games now so that should pay off,” Holgorsen said. I’m not doing a very good job coaching if he’s not better year three.

While Tune has shown flashes of brilliance as the leader of the UH offense, particularly using his legs to create something out of nothing, consistency has been the 6-foot-3-inch quarterback’s biggest issue.

A big reason for Tune’s inconsistencies is because of the UH offensive line, which seems to shuffle out a new combination of five people every week since Tune’s been at the helm of the offense.

The good news for UH is that the 2021 roster features an offensive line that is deep and healthy, according to Holgorsen.

Holgorsen believes the ability or lack thereof to maintain stability upfront and protect their quarterback throughout the 2021 season will play the biggest factor in how Tune performs during his junior season.

We have to be better in front of (Tune) for him to be better, Holgorsen said. We’ve had, I think 20 offensive line combinations in 20 games. We finally got to a point where we got depth and got experience.

Depth at defensive line

Despite losing a game-changing type player in Payton Turner, who went 28th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft to the Saints, both Holgorsen and defensive line coach Brian Early believe the Cougars’ defensive line will be better than it was in 2020.

UH’s defensive line features a mix of seasoned veterans as well as up-and-coming youngsters to give the team the depth it did not previously have.

Both junior Derek Parish and senior David Anenih had plenty of snaps at defensive end and provide veteran leadership.

Junior defensive lineman Logan Hall had a breakout spring and is “coming into his own”. Iowa State transfer Latrell Bankston turned some heads at nose guard towards the end of spring, according to Holgorsen.

The defensive line’s depth will allow UH to rotate players in and out throughout the course of the game, keeping players fresh which Holgorsen believes will result in an increase of production from the unit as a whole.

Now we got a lot of depth on the D-line and we got guys that are competing for playing time, Holgorsen said. We like to rotate those guys a good bit so when you rotate them the next group’s got to be able to go in and play as well.

New vibes in the locker room

With a roster full of players who have been in the program since Holgorsen arrived in 2019, the team has a new itch to win and live up to the standards they set for themselves.

Holgorsen said he can feel a new sense of urgency to win from his team who is tired of coming up on the short end of the stick week after week.

This has created a new type of feeling around the UH football program that is more determined than ever to turn the corner and become relevant again.

I think everybody is just sick of the stuff we’ve been through and sick of not winning as many games as we know we can and as we should,” Tune said. There’s a different vibe in the locker room, a different vibe about all the players, coaches and everyone involved in the program.

Senior cornerback and return specialist Marcus Jones sees the same kind of new energy around the program that Tune talked about and believes it will translate into sustained success on the field.

Jones emphasized how the Cougars are focused on one thing and one thing only in 2021: winning.

This year is all about, like coach Holgorsen said, earning wins with my brothers, Jones said. We worked hard this offseason with competing with each other, getting closer as a team so we’re all about winning.

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