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How Houston’s Air Raid roots connect to LaVell Edwards and BYU’s offensive attack

Houston coach Dana Holgorsen spent time with former BYU grad assistant Mike Leach when the two were members of the the Valdosta State staff

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Houston wide receiver Marquez Stevenson, left, goes up for a catch in the end zone against Navy on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Houston. Stevenson, a likely future NFL star, will be a player the Cougars will need to be aware of Friday night in Houston.

AP

What do BYU football and Houston coach Dana Holgorsen have in common?

Well, right up at the top it is the love of the pass, traditional roots that cross back to LaVell Edwards, and involvement in rewriting NCAA records.

On Friday, Holgorsen will coach against Kalani Sitake. Both men should be able to relate to the legendary Edwards, who would have turned 90 this past week.

Holgorsen, a former athlete at Iowa Wesleyan, got involved with then-coach Hal Mumme, who then went on to coach at Valdosta State, where all three tapped into an offensive philosophy with a guy named Mike Leach.

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Former BYU grad assistant Mike Leach, who learned a lot about the passing game while a member of LaVell Edwards’ staff, worked alongside Houston coach Dana Holgorsen when both were part of the Valdosta State football staff.

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Mumme and Leach have often referenced the impact Edwards had on their coaching philosophies.

In this incubator of offensive brain trusts, trading ideas and philosophies, Leach introduced Mumme to passing concepts he learned by watching practices at BYU under Edwards. It involved multiple receiver routes, attacking defenses geometrically downfield, applying pressure to defenses by forcing coverage to commit while attacking other vulnerabilities.

Thus, hatched the Air Raid offense.

After coaching at Valdosta State, Holgorsen held offensive coaching positions at Mississippi College and Wingate before joining Leach at Texas Tech as the inside receivers coach before becoming offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He was then offensive coordinator at Houston for a year in 2008 before leaving to become the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State.

Holgorsen returned to Houston as head coach after his first head coaching job at West Virginia.

Holgorsen helped tutor Case Keenum, the NCAA’s most prolific passer for total yards and touchdowns while at Houston. His FBS mark still stands at close to 20,000 yards (19,217).

He also has two Biletnikoff Award winners in Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech) and Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State) to his credit.

So, this thread of passing offense has weaved its way from the 1980s with BYU and Edwards through a young Holgorsen through Mumme and Leach to this Friday when the Cougars meet the Cougars in a most interesting matchup.

Holgorsen is known for drinking the popular energy drink Red Bull, downing dozens of cans a day.  He makes close to $4 millionin salary at Houston, a football program that yearns for the days of the ’90s with Heisman winner Andre Ware, back when offensive firepower reigned.

Coincidently, Ware will be on the ESPN mic for the nationally televised BYU-Houston game and Ware has been over-the-top in his praise of BYU quarterback Zach Wilson.

Holgorsen has also had plenty of praise for what he’s seen in Wilson, setting the stage for a real offensive show.

Earlier this week, Holgorsen told the media duringhis weekly availability that Wilson doesn’t seem to make very many errors.

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Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen, right, yells at an official during game against Cincinnati, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Houston. Holgorsen coached alongside Mike Leach when the two were members of the Valdosta State staff.

AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith

“He doesn’t make mistakes. He’s got really good protection now. That O-line is experienced and really good. Our D-line is going to have their hands full. They start things off with the run game.” 

Mentioning BYU players by their numbers rather than names, Holgorsen said of Lopini Katoa and Tyler Allgeier: “Both are legit backs that are tough and run hard. And it looks to me like the relationship that (Wilson) has got with the timing with those receivers — especially No. 5 (Dax Milne) and No. 18 (Gunner Romney) — is pretty good.”

This matchup is intriguing for plenty of reasons.

In its only game yet this season, Houston defeated Tulane last week 49-31 after falling behind 17-7 after three turnovers, including a pick-six. Houston QB Clayton Tune completed 20 of 33 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns.

Houston outgained Tulane 426 to 211 yards but the thing BYU has to be concerned about in Houston is its speedy defense that had six sacks for losses of 44 yards.

The Cougars struggled to keep UTSA’s defense from flushing Wilson out of the pocket last Saturday, and Houston has equal speed and athleticism to push that tactic.

On the other hand, BYU could return All-America candidate center James Empey and senior guard Tristen Hoge for this game.

This is a big one for the Cougars.

Both Cougars.