Guns Up Nation will attempt to conduct an interview with a media member from each team the Red Raiders face this season. This week, Guns Up Nation interviewed Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle. Duarte is a seasoned reporter and has been with the Houston Chronicle since 1996.
What are your overall expectations for the Cougars this season?
Duarte: After two straight losing seasons, this should finally be the breakthrough season. Houston has its deepest and most experienced roster under coach Dana Holgorsen, along with a manageable schedule. There was plenty of competition in the spring and preseason camp, something that had been missing the previous seasons due to the lack of depth. It would be perfect timing for a rebound season, especially with Houston on the verge of an invitation to the Big 12. The Tech game is one of the toughest of the season. After this week the schedule is set up that anything less than 8-9 wins should be considered a disappointment.
Both Matt Wells & Dana Holgorsen are entering their third year without a winning season under their belt. Is there talk of moving on from him with another disappointing season?
Duarte: At $4 million per season, Dana Holgorsen is the highest paid head coach in the Group of Five and on par with some Power Five programs. Houston has never paid a coach that much, a sign that the Cougars are all-in when they persuaded Holgorsen to leave West Virginia in 2019. He’s 7-13 in two seasons that have been anything but normal. In 2019, the wounds were self-inflicted as Holgorsen made the controversial move of more than 30 players using a redshirt season, including star quarterback D’Eriq King (who eventually transferred to Miami). Last year, Houston was one of the programs most impacted by Covid-19 with eight games either canceled or postponed. What does Year 3 offer? Houston officials believe they have the right man for the job. Holgorsen said in the offseason that it was time for the program to start winning and acknowledged the importance of this season. Holgorsen isn’t on the hot seat just yet. But another disappointing season could make his chair warmer.
Which position group is most improved from last season?
Duarte: Protecting third-year quarterback Clayton Tune was a priority in the offseason. Houston upgraded the offensive line with the addition of grad transfer Kody Russey, an All-Conference USA center at Louisiana Tech. Left tackle Patrick Paul and right tackle Dennis Bardwell are back from injuries and 320-pound Texas A&M transfer Tank Jenkins will start at right guard. The one job up for grabs is at left guard. Any semblance of continuity would be a welcome sight considering this: Houston has used 20 different offensive line combinations in the last 20 games under Holgorsen.
Who is an under-the-radar player to keep an eye on in this season opener?
Duarte: Defensive end Derek Parish will be counted on to provide pass rush off the edge following the loss of first-round draft pick Payton Turner. Parish has seen an increase in playing time with nine starts the past two seasons. He was third on the team last season with 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. He’s certainly not under the radar, but I’m intrigued by how big of a role former Tech receiver Ke’Sean Carter will assume in the passing game.
What matchup in this game intrigues you the most? (UH OL vs TTU DL, TTU WR vs UH secondary, Etc..)
Duarte: Houston defensive line vs. Texas Tech offensive line.
This is where the Cougars could see a significant improvement this season. Depth is at an all-time high with Houston expected to use a 10- to 12-man rotation on the defensive front. The interior line combo of Logan Hall and Latrell Bankston should cause havoc for opposing teams. Hall is coming off a breakout season and has seen his NFL stock rise. Bankston transferred to Houston in the offseason after one solid season at Iowa State.
What’s the recipe for Houston to win the game?
Duarte: Control the ball and make stops on defense. Houston appears to be better suited to accomplish those two things with its best defense in years and a stable of running backs, which includes former Red Raider Ta’Zhawn Henry. Forcing a few turnovers wouldn’t hurt, either.
Final score prediction.
Duarte: This one comes down to the fourth quarter. Houston 31, Texas Tech 24.
Guns Up Nation wants to thank Joseph Duarte for his time and effort with this interview. You can follow Duarte on Twitter (@Joseph_Duarte)!