Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Houston 24, Vanderbilt 41

The Cougars stumbled out of the gate, rallied, but then fell short in a 24-41 loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama last Saturday. This was Houston's fourth loss in five games and their largest margin of defeat of the season.

The Good: The third quarter. Houston rallied from a 24-point halftime deficit to tie the game. The offense gained an astounding 309 yards in the quarter, with touchdowns coming on a Kenneth Farrow run and John O'Korn passes to Markeith Ambles and Deontay Greenberry. Ambles caught 5 passes for 95 yards in the third quarter, while O'Korn was 10-17 for 213 yards in the period. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, could only manage 47 yards of offense and was unable to score in the third quarter; over the course of the game the Cougar defense forced three turnovers and held Vanderbilt to 2 for 17 on third-down conversions.

The Bad: The other three quarters. The Cougar offense was clearly not prepared to start this game, and the first half was a bad comedy of incomplete passes, turnovers and sacks. The team did not manage a first down until midway through the second quarter, and could only manage 22 yards of total offense - and no points - in the entire first half. After their third quarter explosion, the offense reverted to form, gaining only 50 yards and scoring no points in the fourth quarter; John O'Korn was intercepted twice. The UH defense, meanwhile, finally succumbed to exhaustion and allowed Vanderbilt to score the game's final 17 points.

The Ugly: The Cougar offensive line was thoroughly manhandled by Vanderbilt, which was one of the reasons for the offense's overall ineptitude. It didn't help matters that offensive line coach Glenn Elarbee left before the bowl game to take a coordinator position at Arkansas State, but the o-line has been a weakness the entire season and a new o-line coach will be a critical offseason hire for Tony Levine.

Oh, and eight penalties for 72 yards. Not pretty.

What it means: I'm not too upset about this loss. Yes, it would have been nice to end the season with a bowl win against an SEC team, and no, I don't like the way the offense came out flat and unprepared, but at the end of the day there was nothing more than pride riding on this game. This wasn't even the worst bowl loss in recent UH history: the 13-42 thrashing by Kansas to end the 2005 season or the 20-47 interception-fest against Air Force to end the 2009 season were far more discouraging.

What I'm more concerned about is how the offense regressed over the second half of the season. Offensive coordinator Doug Meacham left for TCU after the season ended, which made several UH fans who were unimpressed with his abilities - myself included - happy. However, rather than engaging in a national search for a new OC who could get the most out of the Cougars' offensive talent, Levine simply promoted running backs coach Travis Bush, who was acting OC in the 2012 season, back into that role. If this game is any indication of what 2014's offense is going to look like, color me unoptimistic.

All things considered, however, 2013 was a respectable year for Houston Cougar football. In spite of not having a true "home" stadium to play in, the Cougars notched an 8-5 record, and could have won even more games had they caught a break or two here or there. The big story of the 2013 team was the stout defense, something not seen in Houston for years, if not decades. Hopefully the Coogs can maintain that momentum in 2014, a season that's going to be notable simply because UH will finally have a brand new stadium to play in.

I'd like to bid farewell to the 2013 college football season with heartfelt congratulations to my father's alma mater, the Florida State Seminoles. They were the only team in FBS to go undefeated, and their victory over a great Auburn team in the BCS National Championship Game was truly a classic.

And now, the offseason. Ugh.

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