Coaches have come and gone, but from Andre Ware to David Klingler to Kevin Kolb to Case Keenum, one thing Houston has done particularly well is put quarterbacks on the field who can throw the football.
Sophomore John O’Korn is the latest in that line, and he has the makings of becoming the next great Cougars QB.
It was Houston’s tradition at the position that prompted O’Korn to commit early to the Cougars out of Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas, a Florida prep athletic power that has produced such notable athletes as wide receiver Michael Irvin and tennis legend Chris Evert.
“Definitely, that was appealing to me,” O’Korn said of being part of Houston’s QB legacy. “I knew I had the opportunity to come in and compete early on for a starting job. That was something that appealed to me as well.”
O’Korn leads the Cougars against UNLV at 5 p.m. PDT Saturday in Houston’s new 40,000-seat TDECU Stadium. As those who back a new UNLV stadium know, public support is crucial to gaining approval for a new facility, and it certainly didn’t hurt in the Cougars’ case that they have been successful with a fan-friendly offense.
If it’s true, as the old baseball commercial stated, that chicks dig the long ball, then football fans pack stadiums to watch wide-open passing attacks.
That style also is attractive to top high school quarterbacks, who love the idea of going to a place where handing off is almost a foreign concept.
“It’s definitely a lot of fun to play in this offense knowing you can throw the ball 50-plus times a game,” O’Korn said.
O’Korn (6 feet 4 inches, 220 pounds) had a strong debut season in 2013, earning the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year award after passing for 3,117 yards and 28 touchdowns. It was the best freshman season by a Houston quarterback, surpassing even all those greats who came before him.
He got off to a slow start this season, however, throwing for 204 yards and four interceptions in the season opener against Texas-San Antonio and 200 yards against Grambling State.
But he found his rhythm last week at Brigham Young, passing for 307 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
O’Korn has two outstanding wide receivers in Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer. Each has 17 receptions this season for a combined 480 yards and three touchdowns.
“We know what we’re capable of,” O’Korn said. “We didn’t really feel like we showed that at all the first two games. We finally showed a glimpse of what we’re capable of in that (BYU) game. It’s something that we needed to do, and now we’re looking forward to putting together a full game and showing everybody else what we already know about ourselves.”
UNLV’s defense will have to up its game to keep O’Korn from completing passes all over the field.
The Rebels gave up 434 yards passing to Arizona and 285 to Northern Illinois. Their secondary was thought to be the strongest part of the defense, but their defensive backs have yet to play up to the high level they established last season.
Maybe the secondary will put it together Saturday, but it won’t be easy against O’Korn.
“He’ll stand in the pocket, he’ll feel pressure, he has a nice presence, he moves around,” UNLV defensive coordinator Tim Hauck said. “He’ll step up to throw the ball more than run it, and if you give him the opportunity, he’ll take off on you. I don’t think he does anything great, but he does everything good.”
Houston was one of the first schools to show interest in O’Korn, and he committed early. Many more coaches eventually came into the picture to try to lure him to their campuses, but he remained steadfast that he was going to be a Cougar.
He certainly knows the high expectations that exist, and former great Houston quarterbacks have offered advice and encouragement to keep the legacy intact. Ware, who won the Heisman Trophy 25 years ago, is an ESPN analyst who breaks down the Cougars’ video and shares his thoughts with O’Korn.
“It’s just really helpful,” O’Korn said. “Off-the-field stuff, too, leadership stuff and how to carry myself. It’s really been a blessing having those guys in my life.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.
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