Reporting Nate Griffin
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HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) The Cougars will have an opportunity to test their new-look offense and defense when they take the field Friday night for the Red and White Intra-squad game. But, talk about new, there’s plenty, especially offensively.
Kicking things off, the Cougars will have an experienced but young starting QB in sophomore David Piland. The Cougars will have new key players at just about every skill position offensively other than running back Charles Sims who will be a big weapon for the Cougars this season.
Sims will run behind an experienced offensive line which returns 4 starters. However, Jacolby Ashworth is the lone senior.
The Cougars will deploy four new wide receivers where the foursome of Edwards, Carrier, Johnson, and Johnson set new records.
However, even more telling is the coaching staff. The Cougars have a new Head Coach in Tony Levine. He has a staff of nine assistant coaches in which only two, plus Levine, remained from the staff of former Cougars Head Coach Kevin Sumlin.
Levine added two new coordinators. More specifically, Mike Nesbitt is the new offensive coordinator after serving in the same position at West Texas A&M and Stephen F. Austin.
SAME OFFENSE DIFFERENT PLAYERS
It’s a new environment for the former Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints punter who has 16 years of coaching experience. During the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Nesbitt primarily called plays in the spread offense now referred to by the Cougars as the Air Raid offense.
Nesbitt’s 2010 West Texas offense was ranked number two nationally after putting up an average of 529 yards per game. His 2011 Stephen F. Austin offense was ranked in the top 15 nationally in passing, total, and scoring offense. Hence, the reason Nesbitt received the call from Levine. But, because of the loss of experience, adjustments had to be made.
“We basically went back and we just started at scratch. We were just going to reinstall it. And so we went back to bare bones – I would say pretty close to what Coach (Dana) Holgerson did when he first got here.”
Holgerson, now the Head Football Coach at West Virginia, was the Cougars offensive coordinator during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Houston finished the 2009 season as the national leader in total offense at 563 yards per game and scoring offense at 42.2 points per game. Nesbitt says Holgerson made it easy which is what he had to do.
“You know – we just went back in and said this is how we’re going to teach it,” said Nesbitt. “This is how we’re going to install it and this is what we’re going to do and start building it back up from there because of the youth of our team offensively.”
There’s a good chance that the Cougars will only start two or three seniors on the offensive side of the ball. Hence, that’s just one of the many reasons why the coaching staff could make no assumptions about the players understanding of the offense.
“It wasn’t a situation where I thought we could come in and say well we don’t need to skip A, B, and C and go straight to D,” said Nesbitt. “We need to start back at step A and just get a beginning phase of it again.”
ARE THE PLAYERS GETTING IT
That is the big question for Nesbitt. Piland obviously has to understand the system after sitting out the 2011 season as a redshirt. Regardless, Nesbitt seems confident in the quarterback’s knowledge of the offense.
“That was the neat thing. Really, they’ve been running it. And so terminology wise, they had already been on the same page and they knew it. At some point they were looking at us going – but we’re moving slow. Well, to me we might have been moving slow at some point. But, I thought we had to.”
But, what’s important for the Cougars is the integration of the run game. While the Cougars torched most of their opponents for a season total of 6301 passing yards, they also ran through opponents for 2086 yards.
Enter talented running back Charles Sims who rushed for 821 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. He also caught 51 passes for 575 yards and 4 touchdowns.
“That’s what gets lost in this offense,” said Nesbitt. “Everybody thinks about the quarterback and they think about those receivers. But in all reality, this offense really works and this offense is really good over the last years when you’ve got a great tailback.”
“You better have a great tailback back there that can get you that 150 to 180 all-purpose yards every week to make the offense really, really roll.”
NESBITT SAYS HE FEELS NO PRESSURE
The Cougars rolled last season finishing 13-1. The one loss was a 49-28 physical whipping at the hands of Southern Miss in the C-USA Conference Championship Game at Robertson Stadium.
However, the Cougars rebounded nicely with a 30-14 win over Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl.
But, the question for Nesbitt is whether or not there’s any pressure to put up the same type offensive numbers or come close to the level of success enjoyed by the offense last season.
“I really don’t. That was one of the reasons why I was real excited to get the job. That’s what you want. You want to be at a good school. You want to be at a good program. And it doesn’t matter where you go.”
“When somebody leaves or you’re the new guy in or whatever the situation is, there’s always a good level of expectation. To me, I’ve always wanted to coach and to work at places where the expectations were high. I mean you want that.”
Kickoff for the spring game gets underway 7:00 Friday night at Robertson Stadium.