Tuesday, September 11, 2012

LA Tech beats Houston in 49-56 shootout

Perhaps Mike Nesbitt's "decision to resign" as offensive coordinator was the cure for what ailed the University of Houston Cougar football offense. The squad was markedly improved when they faced Louisiana Tech last Saturday, rolling up 693 yards total offense and scoring six touchdowns on the Bulldog defense.

Quarterback David Piland showed great improvement over his poor performance against Texas State. He completed 53 of 77 passes for 580 yards and four touchdowns. He had no interceptions, was only sacked twice and, just for good measure, also scrambled for 33 yards on a broken play.

Meanwhile Charles Sims, who went woefully underused last weekend, carried the ball 21 times for 65 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught the ball 11 times for another 53 yards. Jackson Ryan added 27 yards on 7 carries and Kenneth Farrow had 20 yards on 4 carries, as the Cougars ran the ball much more effectively than they did during last weekend's embarrassing loss to Texas State. 

The offense was by no means superb. Piland's numbers would have been even better had it not been for the several catchable passes that the young receiving corps dropped. A Charles Sims fumble led to a LA Tech touchdown. And don't even get me started on all the momentum-killing penalties.

But the offense was most certainly not the problem last Saturday. The Cougars could have actually won this game, had they fielded anything resembling a defense. But therein lies the problem: the UH defense, as it currently exists, cannot tackle, cannot stop the run, cannot put anything resembling pressure on the quarterback and cannot force turnovers. They are, to put it mildly, helpless.

Louisiana Tech gained 245 yards (133 of them by running back Tevin King) and 5 touchdowns on the ground. They gained another 353 yards and three touchdowns through the air. They did not give up a single sack, fumble or interception to Houston's defense, and neither myself (nor anyone sitting around me) observed any changes or adjustments to Houston's defensive philosophy; the Bulldogs ran the same plays the entire game with impunity. Most disconcerting, however, was the lack of tackling ability on the part of the UH defenders. It's as if a skill that they were surely taught in high school has been completely forgotten.

Given that the team's offensive woes during last week's abomination cost the offensive coordinator his job, you can forgive the Cougar faithful for hoping that last Saturday's pathetic defensive performance would result in the "resignation" of defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant. It doesn't look like that's going to happen, but according to head coach Tony Levine adjustments will be made on the defensive side of the ball.

Penalties are another problem the Cougar need to address. Last Saturday, they were flagged 14 times for 129 yards. Granted, some of the calls were ridiculous; the WAC crew that officiated the game was marginally competent at best. The fact that the Cougars were able to address their problems on offense so quickly offers hope that they'll be able to remedy problems on defense and team discipline in a timely manner as well. But the team has a tough couple of games coming up.

Next up for the Cougars are the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl. Given that this game is on the road and against a team that just upset ranked Nebraska, I'm just hoping that the Coogs keep it respectable and don't suffer any major injuries (like what happened the last time they played in Pasadena). Then it's back to Houston to face Rice (which is coming off a road win over Kansas) at Reliant Stadium (where the Cougars have never won a game). At this point, I'm expecting an 0-4 start to what is quickly turning out to be a disastrous 2012 season.

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