O-line ready to keep King safe
Cougars have allowed only one sack in 2018, but challenge awaits
GREENVILLE, N.C. — D’Eriq King has been sacked just once this season, and he knows who is responsible.
“Probably my fault more than (the offensive line),” King, the University of Houston’s junior quarterback, said of the decision to hold onto the football a little too long early in the second half of the Sept. 15 game against Texas Tech.
Through five games, the Cougars’ offensive line leads the nation with only one sack allowed in 391 plays. Told his quarterback took responsibility for the only blemish on the ledger, senior center Will Noble could only smile.
“He can take responsibility for the one sack, but he’s gotten us out more than a fair share,” Noble said.
Two of UH’s strengths — pass protection and run blocking — will be tested Saturday against East Carolina (2-3 overall, 0-2 American Athletic Conference) at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The Pirates are one of the most aggressive and blitz-happy teams the Cougars will face in AAC play. They rank in the top 10 nationally in sacks (19) and tackles for loss (51). And while UH ranks ninth in rushing offense with an average 264.8 yards, East Carolina is giving up just 110.4 per game.
“I’m pleased with the stats, the numbers speak for themselves,” Houston coach Major Applewhite said of the offensive line’s strong start. “I’m pleased with the way those guys have worked together as a group. They’re developing
their mentality as a group day in and day out. Having that mentality as an offensive line means that you’re only as good as your last game.
“We’re not too much into the sit there, pause, take inventory on where we are and how good we are. From the offensive line standpoint, it’s about the next opportunity and the next challenge — and this is going to be a hell of a challenge on the road.”
The Cougars (4-1, 1-0) enter the game in sole possession of first place in the AAC West Division, thanks largely in part to one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. King has been responsible for 25 touchdowns, having been given plenty of time to survey the field behind a veteran offensive line that has combined for 111 career starts.
Noble has made a teamhigh 37 career starts in four years at center. Left tackle Josh Jones has 28 career starts, followed by right guard Braylon Jones (22) and left guard Mason Denley (17). Jarrid Williams has seven career starts at right tackle.
After having to replace the entire right side of the offensive line in the offseason, the Cougars have answered any questions during the opening month and half of season. In the offseason, Braylon Jones shifted from left guard to right guard and Williams took over at right tackle. UH has used the same five-man lineup in every game.
Going back further, Noble, Williams and Josh Jones were on the same recruiting visit in 2014.
“We’ve known each other for so long that I can just look over at Josh and make eye contact and give him a nod and make the call,” Noble said.
Josh Jones credited the arrival of Randy Clements, UH’s run-game coordinator and offensive line coach, for the improvement up front.
“We have great chemistry on the line,” he said. “We are always on the same page with our blocks and pass protection. We just focus on technique, technique, technique.”
Applewhite added the rushing total is indicative of how “you’re dominating the line of scrimmage,” while the low sack numbers are a result of solid protection and King knowing when to get rid of the ball.
The Pirates employ three- and four-man fronts, led by defensive end Nate Harvey, who leads the AAC with 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Alex Turner, a Jersey Village product, has three sacks and seven tackles for loss, while defensive end Kendall Futrell has three sacks.
“They have some great defensive ends who are very athletic,” Applewhite said. “Harvey does some great things on tape. He plays with a great motor, can rush the passer and can play the run. The defense is much improved.”
A year after owning one of the worst defenses in the nation, East Carolina has gone from 115th (497.2 yards) to 29th (340.2) — the biggest improvement in the nation.
Braylon Jones said the Pirates will be a challenge.
“We always want to keep our quarterback clean and feel comfortable back there,” he said.
Houston quarterback D'Eriq King knows that it is what’s up front that counts — his offensive line has allowed only one sack in 391 plays this season.