Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Houston 17, Cincinnati 24

Another defensive struggle, another loss.

The Good: not much. The defense returned a fumble for a touchdown and made two interceptions. For the second game in a row, the Coogs only committed three penalties the entire game. And Cincinnati's field goal kicker kept Houston in the game by missing three attempts.

The Bad: everything else. In spite of the three turnovers, Cincinnati still racked up 401 yards through the air and 172 yards on the ground. The Cougar offense was utterly ineffective. Quarterback John O'Korn had a poor day, completing only 13 of 30 passes for 171 yards and a single touchdown. Of course, he got no help from receivers who dropped catchable passes, an offensive line that could not protect him, a non-existent running game, and predictable and oftentimes bizarre playcalling that led to multiple three-and-outs. Greg Ward also played quarterback but was just as ineffective.

The Ugly: the field at BBVA Compass Stadium. It was in horrible condition. I know the weather (cold and rainy) had an effect, but I was nevertheless shocked.

What it Means: I haven't seen this kind of offensive ineptitude since Kim Helton was coaching the Cougars. They've scored only 4 offensive touchdowns in the last three games and look completely out of rhythm. I know they've played some tough defenses over the past few weeks, but it really seems like offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and his squad have regressed.

This needs to be fixed against SMU Friday at Reliant Stadium. While the Cougars are bowl eligible, I certainly don't want the regular season to end on a four-game losing streak. Besides, we owe the Ponies for last year's debacle.

Hello winter

Apparently, parts of the Houston area are supposed to get the first freeze of the season tonight. It might not get to the 32 degree mark here in Bellaire, but it's going to be chilly tonight, nevertheless.

Yes, it's cold out there. But here's the nice thing about Houston and its mild winter: freezes such as these don't last very long. A front comes through, temperatures drop down into the lower 30s and upper 20s for a couple of days, and then things warm up, giving us pleasant weather for awhile. This does not happen in the summer: the brutal heat and humidity sets in and drones on for months with no respite. Nor does this happen during the winter in much of the United States: winter arrives, and months of bitter cold, ice and snow follow. That's just as oppressive as a Houston summer, if not worse (in terms of driving conditions, etc.).

So while the temperature outside might be colder than I like, I take heart in the fact that it's only temporary, that this weekend's weather is expected to be awesome, and that this pattern is going to stick around for a few months. Winter is one of the advantages of living in Houston.

So enjoy it, and don't complain about the cold too much. That miserable summer heat might be a distant memory right now, but it will be back before any of us are ready for it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Houston 13, Louisville 20

Another hard-fought defensive struggle against a ranked team on the road, and, unfortunately, another close loss.

The Good: the UH defense has become the story of the season. They held the Louisville Cardinals to their lowest point total of the season and kept Cardinal QB Teddy Bridgewater, whose name has appeared on some Heisman watch lists, from completing a touchdown pass for the first time in 21 games. Special teams also recovered a muffed punt by Louisville, which Houston turned into a field goal.

The Bad: unfortunately, the UH defense had little answer for Louisville running back Dominique Brown, who gained 137 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. Worse yet, the Cougar offense was utterly anemic, save the second quarter. Quarterback John O'Korn completed only 16 on 35 passes for 121 yards (he was not helped by receivers who dropped too many catchable balls), and the Cougar ground game could only manage a paltry 74 yards. The playcalling was generally poor, as well.

What it Means: not much, quite honestly. The Cougars were effectively eliminated from the conference title race after losing to Central Florida last week, so this week's loss carries little effect. However, the toughest portion of the Coogs' season is now over and they return to Houston to play their final two games of the season.

Next Saturday's game against Cincinnati has been moved from Rice Stadium to BBVA Compass Stadium.

Houston to Munich, nonstop

Getting to Bavaria just got a little easier:
United Airlines said Tuesday it will offer new daily nonstop flights between Houston and Munich and a second daily service to Tokyo next year.
The new Munich service will launch April 24 using a Boeing 767-400 with 242 seats.
United already runs year-round nonstop flights from its U.S. hubs to five cities in
Germany, including a nonstop service from Houston to Frankfurt. The new Tokyo service will start March 30 using a Boeing 777-200 with 267 seats. United's existing Tokyo service began in 1999.
My first thought: if United is once again adding service from Bush Intercontinental, does that mean that their temper tantrum is finally over?

My second thought: adding the Munich service is a no-brainer, because Munich is Lufthansa's second-busiest hub (behind Frankfurt) and Lufthansa is a United Star Alliance partner. The second daily nonstop to Tokyo is more of a surprise, but I guess it speaks to strong demand between United's hub here in Houston and All Nippon Airways' (again, a Star Alliance member) hub at Tokyo's Narita Airport.

The bottom line is that Houston is getting more international service, and that's always good thing. I'll drink to that the next time I'm at the Hofbrauhaus!

The KCS Southern Belle

I happened to be downtown Monday and noticed a unique train parked at the Amtrak Station on Washington:
This is the Kansas City Southern's special excursion train, the Southern Belle. It is powered by three EMD F9 locomotives, which were manufactured in the 1950s. The locomotives pull a series of vintage passenger cars.
I'm not really sure what the Southern Belle was doing in town; the train was unmanned and not under power when I took these pictures, and there was no signage or literature to indicate if the train was here for a special event.

In any case, I thought it was pretty cool. But then again, I'm a hopeless traingeek...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Houston 14, Central Florida 19

The Cougars were seven yards away from a tremendous upset last Saturday night in Orlando. Unfortunately, they couldn't pull it off.

The Good: the Cougar defense held the #19-ranked Golden Knights to their lowest point total of the season, in part by forcing three UCF turnovers and not allowing a touchdown pass. Special teams blocked a field goal attempt, giving the offense great field position for their touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Finally, while I'm not a big fan of moral victories, the fact that the Cougars were a deflected pass in the endzone from upsetting a ranked team on the road is rather remarkable, especially considering my expectations for this program heading into the season.

The Bad: Central Florida, likewise, held the Cougars to their lowest point total of the season, in part by playing stifling pass defense. Quarterback John O'Korn completed only about half of his pass attempts, was sacked three times, was intercepted once, and was forced to scramble on several occasions (although O'Korn did end up with 56 rushing yards and a touchdown for his efforts on the ground). Then there were the penalties: eight for 72 yards, including a targeting penalty that caused a UH defender to be ejected from the game. Most importantly, the Cougars had an excellent chance to win this one, with first and goal and only a minute or so remaining. They blew it.

What it Means: This loss essentially takes Houston out of the hunt for an American Athletic Conference title and BCS bowl appearance, and another tough road game against Louisville looms this weekend.

Clear skies ahead for American - US Airways merger

So much for the protracted legal battle I was anticipating.
American Airlines and US Airways reached a deal with the government that lets the two form the world's biggest airline and opens up more room at key U.S. airports for low-cost carriers.

The settlement announced Tuesday — if approved by a federal judge — would end a fight with the U.S. Justice Department and head off a courtroom showdown later this month.
The concessions that the government extracted from the two airlines appear to be rather modest - they gave up a few gates at a few larger airports, and agreed to continue service some smaller ones, among other things - but generally speaking, American and US Airways came away unscathed.
J.P. Morgan analyst Jamie Baker said, "Why mince words? A win for the airlines" is how he viewed the settlement.

The two airlines and some industry experts said the Justice Department had a weak case, especially after allowing four big airline mergers in the past eight years with few conditions. American and US Airways, however, were not willing to bet the fate of their multi-billion-dollar merger on the decision of a single judge.
My thoughts on this merger are the same now as they were back in August - basically, I think the flying public is going to be the real loser in all this -  but this merger is simply the logical conclusion of a consolidation trend that has gripped the domestic airline industry over the past several years.

This settlement will be approved by a federal judge in the coming weeks, and the two airlines will begin the merger process before the year is over.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Slow drivers in the left lane, beware!

I wholeheartedly support this effort:
Local law enforcement agencies on Wednesday plan to crack down on drivers who meander along in the left lane, officials said.
Unless you're passing another vehicle or turning left, driving in the left lane of multi-lane roadways is against Texas law.

The statute is relatively unknown and is rarely enforced, so Wednesday's special enforcement effort is designed to help spread the word, officials said.

Violators not only block the smooth flow of traffic but also create a dangerous situation as traffic builds around them.

"That's the lane ambulances use, and when you put a slower car into it, that can lead to crashes," said Sgt. Gordon Schneider with the Department of Public Safety.
I’ve written about this many times before, but I’ll say it again: as a driver, nothing irritates me more than people who drive slow in the left lane. (People who wait until the last moment to merge are a close second.) As the article states, these drivers impede the flow of traffic and create hazardous driving conditions. This is especially true on rural interstates, which are only two lanes in either direction and where a slow driver in the left lane can cause miles-long backups that are frustrating to everyone.

The left lane is for passing only. Period. Full stop. The only time a slow vehicle should be in the left lane is if they are overtaking an even slower vehicle in the right lane (this happens frequently with big rigs on rural interstates).  And the posted speed limit is irrelevant. If you’re doing 75 in the left lane and the guy behind you wants to do 100, move over and let him risk getting a ticket.

I’m glad DPS is finally working to get the message out.


The voters have spoken:
A $217 million bond measure to fund a massive Astrodome renovation failed by several percentage points, a decision expected to doom it to the wrecking ball.
Proposition 2 would have allowed Harris County to issue up to $217 million in bonds to turn the beloved but bedraggled stadium into a massive event and exhibition center. In complete but unofficial results, opponents gained 53 percent of the vote.

County commissioners have said they would recommend the wrecking ball if the bond failed.
"We're going to have to do something quick," County Judge Ed Emmett said afterward. "We can't allow the once-proud dome to sit like a rusting ship in the middle of a parking lot."
“Do something quick” translates to  “solicit bids from demolition companies immediately.” Emmett and the rest of the commissioners court want to wash their hands clean of this iconic yet obsolete building as soon as possible.

My thoughts on why the Dome bond measure failed are pretty much in line with Kuff’s:
My theory on the Astrodome was that in the end, this effort came too late. I think too many people had become cynical about the whole thing, and perhaps the somewhat staid New Dome proposal, chosen over a number of imaginative but fanciful alternatives, turned people off. I’m just guessing here. The pro-Dome campaign wasn’t particularly high-visibility, either, and that probably didn’t help. Like it or not, the people have spoken.
I completely agree about the proposal for its renovation: it was bland and had a very speculative “let’s renovate it and see if they come” quality to it. There was no clear answer as to what kind of revenue the refurbished arena would generate, and nobody could clearly demonstrate a need for more convention space in the City of Houston. In fact, the only committed user for the renovated dome was the Offshore Technology Conference; the Texans weren’t interested in using it - they want more parking - and the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo’s support for it was tepid and conditional.

And yes, the campaign for the bond was anemic. It’s almost as if the whole thing was designed to fail. 

The bottom line is that there are a significant number of people in Harris County who were not interested in preserving the world’s first air-conditioned, domed stadium and/or were adverse to the property tax hike that would have been required to fund its renovation.

For the record, I still think UH architecture student Ryan Slattery’s proposal for the Astrodome – strip it down to its steel frame and create a massive outdoor pavilion – was the most elegant and inspired option for the building’s future. That being said, the building's fate was decided on Tuesday.

It’s time to say goodbye, and move on.

RIP Astrodome 1965-2014.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Houston 35, South Florida 23

I'll take an ugly win over a pretty loss anytime, but this game really should not have been this close.

The Good: QB John O'Korn had another strong outing, completing 22 of 27 passes for 263 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, one of which as a beautiful 48-yard strike to Deontay Greenberry. On the ground, Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow combined for 105 yards and a touchdown apiece on 16 carries. The Cougar defense recorded three sacks (knew of which led to a turnover), one interception and held South Florida's rushing attack to only 53 yards. An alert UH special teams unit recovered a surprise USF onside kick attempt in the 3rd quarter.

Oh, and the black uniforms the Coogs wore for Halloween night. Those were pretty cool.

The Bad: South Florida quarterback Mike White, a freshman making his very first start, torched the Houston defense to the tune of 311 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan Jackson fumbled the ball into the end zone for a USF touchback, a poorly-fielded punt was also fumbled and recovered by the Bulls, and Kenneth Farrow committed a rather stupid personal foul penalty that killed a Houston drive. The Cougars struggled against the 2-5 Bulls the entire game and didn't put it away until late in the fourth quarter.

The Ugly: Although it ended up helping the Cougars, South Florida's team was woefully lacking in discipline. The Bulls committed an astounding 19 penalties for 170 yards, including a rather generous offensive pass interference call on what would have been USF's go-ahead touchdown.

What it Means: This game, on a short week of rest, in front of a small crowd on Halloween night, and with a huge showdown against Central Florida looming, really had "trap" written all over it. The Cougars were able to survive and have secured themselves a winning season. But they will need to play better when they face the conference's best team in Orlando next Saturday, lest they be blown out.