Marcus Jones is an electric threat with the ball in his hands. (@UHCougarFB)
Dana Holgorsen and UH football find themselves still riding a winning streak. (@UHCougarFB)
Clayton Tune is running Dana Holgorsen's UH offense. (Courtesy UH).
Alton McCaskill brings some star power to Dana Holgorsen's University of Houston football program. (@UHCougar FB)
Renu Khator and Tilman Fertitta went into UH's hall of fame together. (Photo courtesy University of Houston.)
Super lawyer Rustin Hardin and UH athletic director Chris Pezman (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston officials have long believed that Dana Holgorsen is the coach who will turn around the football program.
Halftime in a football locker room is chaos in the best of circumstances. And no one thinks these are the best of anything. Dana Holgorsen’s University of Houston football team trails a middling Navy team 17-7, having made enough of a mockery of a two minute drill to leave even the time challenged Bill O’Brien scratching his head. The Cougars are disappointed and angry at themselves — and their head coach is right there with them on this Saturday night.
“I had to decompress,” Holgorsen says of his own halftime reaction. “We go straight to offense and defense coaches meetings. So I had to kind of decompress a little bit because I was not in a good mood.”
The Cougars needed a lift — and in those first moments of halftime, with the coaches meeting, the players take it upon themselves to steady and challenge each other. Safety Hasaan Hypolite, something of a surprise captain pick for this UH team, particularly delivers words that resonate with his teammates.
“He talked to us at halftime and was like, ‘You know we want to be a championship team. We know what it takes. So we gotta finish,’ ” UH cornerback/wide receiver/return magician Marcus Jones tells PaperCity about Hypolite’s message.
Instead of letting the season start to slip away — and a loss to Navy would have been devastating to what Holgorsen is building — the Cougars rally around each other, outscoring the Midshipmen 21-3 in the second half to secure a 28-20 win. This Houston squad still may look a long way from being a championship team, but this gut check of a win, even over a less talented opponent at home, is still an important step.
One that just may show that UH is starting to get the kind of internal player leadership and buy in that any successful program desperately needs. Holgorsen and rest of the coaches’ halftime adjustments matter. But Hasaan Hypolite’s words may mean even more.
“It was one of those situations where we’ve got to talk to ourselves and come in the brotherhood and basically come together,” Jones says when I ask about the halftime scene. “And just calm down, breathe. It’s 30 more minutes in the second half to play and we’ve got to take advantage of that.”
Hasaan Hypolite’s words hit home with his teammates. Then, Houston grabs its season right back.
Of course, Marcus Jones is someone who makes the most of every chance he gets. The future NFL cornerback and kick returner is turning into college football’s modern day version of Charles Woodson. Making returning kicks for touchdowns seem like a routine every week thing. Playing wide receiver when the offense needs him more than the defense. And of course, blanketing opposing wideouts when he does play cornerback (which he will this Friday against a dangerous Tulsa team).
Yes, Marcus Jones truly does it all like no one else in the game today. This is one of the best stories in all of college football. Even if the national media has been a little slow to catch on.
The Marcus Jones Factor
It’s no stretch to say that UH is 3-1 and Navy is 0-3 because the Cougars have Marcus Jones and the Midshipmen can only dream of such a talent. In a Houston first half that rivals anything in Halloween Kills for offensive horrors, Jones catches a punt on the left side and turns it into a 73 yard touchdown with one quick move to keep his team from completely flat lining.
Then, he catches a 47-yard touchdown from Clayton Tune to give Houston its first lead of the game in the fourth quarter.
“Always,” defensive lineman Derek Parish says, breaking into a grin when I ask if Jones’ big returns are almost expected now. “You see him back there and it’s like, ‘Oh, give him some space. He’s green bean.’. .. I like watching him play. I love it.”
From the press box, it looks like Jones knows that he can score the moment he catches the fateful punt, with the field opening up for him like a chess board does for Beth Harmon. Later, he’ll swear that’s not the case.
“I honestly don’t know until I get to the second level,” Jones says. “Usually whenever I make the first couple guys and hit a seam or see a crease. And then I see something on the outside. That’s when I feel like I can take it the distance.”
For opposing special teams coaches, facing Marcus Jones is akin to coming across a cobra. You just hope he does not strike when you happen to be in the vicinity.
“You see him back there and it’s like, ‘Oh, give him some space. He’s green bean.’ — Derek Parish on Marcus Jones.
Holgorsen knows something about making the most of uber versatile talents such as Jones. He did it with Wes Welker as a Texas Tech assistant and with Tavon Austin as West Virginia’s head coach. Though those were strictly offensive players. You get the idea that having Marcus Jones gets Holgorsen’s creativity going in a whole new way.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Holgorsen says. “That punt return stuff is something else. I said it last year. I’ve never seen anything like it. And now our team understands it, so we’re setting this stuff up. I don’t want to take anything away from Marcus. I think he could potentially make all 11 of ’em miss.
“But we’re gaining confidence. Teams are going to be in a bind.”
With Jones doing his many things, junior tailback Ta’Zhawn Henry gaining 51 of his 54 yards in the second half to add another dimension to an offense dependent on super freshman Alton McCaskill (74 yards on 17 carries) and Tune (257 yards passing without an interception) finding just enough deep balls in the second half, Holgorsen’s team wins its third straight.
It is not always pretty. But it shows some serious resolve. And some priceless internal player leadership when things look most bleak.
Navy takes the opening kickoff and promptly drives 76 yards in just three plays. All on the ground. With Midshipman quarterback Xavier Arline going untouched on a 40-yard touchdown run to finish it. Suddenly, an ominous tone for the game for Houston has been set. One that lasts for the entire first half.
Navy came into the game having scored seven points or fewer in five straight games dating back to last season. They have 17 by halftime on Houston’s defense. With 46 seconds left in the first half, the Cougars have 83 yards of total offense and three first downs. Not exactly the Dana Holgorsen offense everyone was promised.
But it’s not about half games. Though sometimes it is about halftimes. Sometimes it’s about coaches and players coming together when nothing is going well. Sometimes, it’s about a kid like Hasaan Hypolite, who found himself dismissed from the Colorado program by then coach Mel Tucker, grabbing his second chance and turning into a real leader.
Hypolite’s words hit home with his teammates. Then, Houston grabs its season right back.
“All these conference games are hard,” Holgorsen says. “They’re all gonna be hard. Football’s hard. Division I football is hard. Our guys showed residency and went in — and coaches and players kind of got it together there in the second half, at halftime.”
It’s something of another start. Which is a lot better than an ending.