The art of the quick strike

Only Alabama has more scor­ing drives of two min­utes or less

Houston Chronicle - - SPORTS - joseph.duarte@chron.com twit­ter.com/joseph_­d­uarte

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.”

Eric Chris­tian Smith / Con­trib­u­tor

“We are just a very ag­gres­sive team,” Cougars quar­ter­back D’Eriq King says. “We are al­ways try­ing to score, no mat­ter the sit­u­a­tion.”

Tim Warner / Getty Im­ages

Coach Ma­jor Ap­ple­white’s team is on pace to be only the sec­ond in UH his­tory to av­er­age 50 points a game.

JOSEPH DUARTE

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