Air assault backed by infantry
By Ed De La Garza
Daily Cougar Staff
Losing five of his team's last six games in 2000 was symptomatic of
a bigger problem for UH football head coach Dana Dimel. The offense lacked
a consistent running game.
Many of the games last season turned into shoot-outs, making it difficult
to establish a ground attack. Dimel hopes to instill a more balanced offensive
scheme this season, but
the second-year coach is quick to allay fears of a return to the plodding,
predictable Kim Helton-led Cougar offense.
"It's not like we're going to be this smash-mouth type of offense, but
we just didn't run the ball worth a dang last year," Dimel said. "We ran
for 80 yards a game and you've got to
be able to do better than that."
Senior Leif Penn, junior Joffrey Reynolds and junior transfer student
Chris Robertson are vying for the No.1 spot. Dimel believes neither Penn
nor Reynolds had ample time to
showcase their skills last season.
"We're going to be more of a type of offense that I'm accustomed to
having — to getting victories," Dimel said. "It's based more on running
the football as well as having a solid
Penn carried the ball 94 times for 348 yards (good for a 3.7 per-rush
average) and scored three touchdowns last season. His breakout game came
against Tulane when he had
24 carries for 144 yards.
Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar
Junior running back Joffrey Reynolds bursts through the
line and into the open field while his blockers scatter defenders like
bowling pins. Reynolds is a preseason All-Conference USA candidate.
Reynolds entered the 2000 season as the No. 1 back, but was never 100
percent. He did have the most success of any Cougar rusher, running for
534 yards on 136 carries (a
3.9 average). Reynolds earned the Conference USA Offensive Player of
the Week award when he gained 201 yards on 34 rushes against Army.
Robertson sat out the 2000 season after transferring from Texas as a
sophomore. As a freshman, he ran the ball a total of 16 times for 84 yards.
He's the biggest of the three
backs (6-1, 218 pounds), but he has the least experience.
"We have a problem, but it's a good problem," Dimel said. "(They) are
all in a heated battle for that position."
Dimel stressed it's the running game that will open up the aerial assault.
With a healthy Orlando Iglesias, who went down against Rice last season,
and Brandon Middleton, the
UH receiving corps looks to be one of the best in the conference.
After Iglesias' injury — and the loss of Jerrian James — Robinson and
Bell came into their own as one of the top tandems in the country.
Robinson caught 80 passes for 890 yards and six touchdowns. His best
game (a 15-reception, 151-yard performance) came against Army. Bell's season
10-reception, 157-yard day against Southern Methodist en route to a
54-catch, 722-yard season.
The two were so good that they were named to C-USA's preseason team.
"I like the recognition," Robinson said. "I think we're going to live
up to it. I don't think we have to, but I think we will."
Middleton returns to the Cougars after sustaining a broken arm during
the Army game. This followed recognition as C-USA Offensive Player of the
Week for an eight-catch,
175-yard day against Louisiana State.
But the best news coming into the season is Iglesias. The 2000 season
forced younger players to step up because of his absence and the coming
year should feature a load of
talent in the position.
"I was never surprised about (Robinson, Bell) and all the other guys,"
Iglesias said. "They've always been great. Ever since their freshman year,
I knew they were going to be
While UH has plenty of talented receivers, the biggest question mark
is replacing Jason McKinley at quarterback. This year, Dimel has three
quarterbacks competing for the
starting job: Kelly Robertson (a junior transfer from Western Kentucky),
freshman Barrick Nealy and sophomore Nick Eddy.
"Robertson had a very good spring," Dimel said. "His biggest strength
is that he understands the system really well and can get us into the plays
that we need."
While Robertson is the odds-on favorite to start against Rice on Sept.
1, Nealy could eventually become the Cougars' No. 1 passer.
"(Nealy) right now has great mobility, great skills," Dimel said. "It's
just how quick he can pick up on the system. He has tremendous skill level."
With returning senior and All-America candidate Jabari Beauford, junior
Chris Wheeler, senior Josh Demarr, senior Patrick Boatner, sophomore Al
James and sophomore Rex
Hadnot, the line is definitely more experienced heading into this season.
The Cougars should be capable of providing Robertson with enough protection
"We have nine offensive linemen that can play for us this year," Dimel
said. "I'd feel comfortable (throwing) any one of them out there and they'd
do a good job for us."
But as new players come in and learn the system, the battles won't be
limited to the football field.
"The competition amongst our football team has increased immensely,"
Dimel said. "Because of that, it's raised the bar of our whole football