The art of the quick strike
Only Alabama has more scoring drives of two minutes or less
Midway through the fourth quarter, the University of Houston trailed Tulsa 26-24.
Then the offense went into overdrive.
“It’s amazing how fast they can just pile it on,” the ESPN announcer said of the Cougars scoring 17 points in 91 seconds to pull away for a 41-26 win last Thursday.
Some of the scoring drives were aided by turnovers and field position. But make no mistake: UH’s revved up offense can move the ball and score at a dizzying pace. Just how fast? UH has 22 touchdown drives of two minutes or less, second among FBS teams only to top-ranked Alabama (23). Eleven of the Cougars’ touchdown drives have been under one minute.
By comparison, the Cougars had 18 touchdown drives of two minutes or less in 12 games last season.
“Tempo, tempo, tempo,” said receiver Keith Corbin, snapping his fingers to emphasize UH’s quick-strike offense.
Overall, UH’s 34 offensive touchdowns have averaged just 5.5 plays to reach the end zone.
As the Cougars reach the midpoint of the 12-game regular season Saturday at East Carolina, first-year coordinator Kendal Briles’ offense is nearing impressive milestones. The 34 touchdowns are just nine fewer than all of last season and, at 50 points per game (third nationally) UH is on pace to join the 1989 Andre Ware-led Run-N-Shoot team (53.5) as the only in school history to average at least 50 points in a season.
Briles said play-calling takes into account the score, UH’s personnel on the field, and what the defense is showing, but adds that the Cougars want to be aggressive.
“So many things that go into just calling the play,” Briles said. “Are we trying to call successful plays? Absolutely. Are we trying to score touchdowns? Absolutely. We’re not always just trying to throw the ball down the field and just chunk it around. We have reasons for what we are doing. But we like to be aggressive.”
Down 26-17 to Tulsa early in the fourth quarter, quarterback D’Eriq King scored on a 61-yard run. After a critical third-down stop, Dalton Witherspoon converted a 33-yard field goal, and the Cougars defense produced a fumble and interception deep in Tulsa territory that produced touchdowns 28 seconds apart.
While the Cougars have been selective on deep throws, they usually have been successful. There have been eight touchdown plays of at least 40 yards, including catches of 57, 57 and 59 by receiver Marquez Stevenson. That has led to some quick drives, with 10 taking three plays or fewer. No wonder the Cougars rank 128th — next to last in the FBS — with an average time of possession of 24 minutes per game.
And, unlike last season when the UH offense lacked consistency and averaged 28.2 points, the fewest in 12 years, this year’s high-powered show has produced touchdowns on 46 percent of 74 offensive possessions.
“Every play we’re thinking touchdown,” left tackle Josh Jones said. “If it’s not a touchdown, we line up and try again.”
On the flip side, King — who has been responsible for a nation-best 30.4 points per game — said the Cougars also can sustain lengthy drives. He pointed to the opening possession against Arizona, a 10-play, 81-yard drive. UH’s most time-consuming drive this season took 4 minutes, 20 seconds off the clock against Texas Southern.
“We can score quick or run the ball every play if we need to grind out the clock,” King said. “I feel we can do both.”
UH’s quick-strike ability was on display in a shootout loss to Texas Tech; six of the Cougars’ seven scoring drives were less than two minutes, and none were longer than three.
Most of the time, 49 points would have been enough to win. Of course, the Red Raiders piled up 63 points and 704 yards.
It’s probably the only time this season the Cougars will face a mirror-like explosive offense.
“We are just a very aggressive team,” King said. “We are always trying to score, no matter the situation.”
“We are just a very aggressive team,” Cougars quarterback D’Eriq King says. “We are always trying to score, no matter the situation.”
Coach Major Applewhite’s team is on pace to be only the second in UH history to average 50 points a game.