Thursday, November 17, 2022

NOLA at night

My Southwest flight from Miami to Houston a couple of weeks ago made a stop in New Orleans, and our final approach into MSY took up over the heart of the Big Easy.

This picture would have been better had it not been for the reflection from inside the cabin, and there was no way I could take it without also getting the front of the airplane's engine. But I took it anyway, because I normally don't approach MSY from this direction and the clear evening provided a great view of the city:

The circular building on the far left is the Superdome, and Canal Street runs vertically through the left of the picture. The French Quarter is in the lower center, bounded by Canal to the left, Rampart to the top, and the Mississippi River at the bottom. Tremé is in the dead center of the photo, and Marginy is the neighborhood closest to the engine. You can even see the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway at the top of the photo.

Cougars lose to SMU in shootout, then get past Temple in a nail-biter

I've been very busy these past few weeks: back-to-back weekend weddings in Louisiana, a trip to Miami for a conference, and tomorrow Corinne and I are going to Italy (!) to visit some of her family for Thanksgiving. So I haven't had a lot of time to write about UH football. Some quick thoughts about the last two games:

Houston 63, SMU 77: That's right... The Cougars scored 63 points. And lost.

The combined 140 points in this game set the NCAA single-game scoring record for two teams in regulation; for purposes of comparison, the score of the most recent basketball game between the two schools was Houston 75, SMU 61.

Clayton Tune threw for seven touchdowns in this game and rushed for one more, while SMU QB Tanner Mordecai threw for nine touchdowns and ran for a score as well. The difference in this game is that Tune threw three interceptions, while Mordecai threw none.

I don't know why neither team decided to play defense - I wasn't playing close attention to this game because I was watching another Houston sports team that evening - but the end result was a loss that Ryan describes as "hard to digest." The cougars haven't won at SMU since 

Houston 43, Temple 36: Vegas had the Coogs favored by 20 in this game, but the Owls didn't get the memo. They pulled out all the stops, even scoring on a fake field goal attempt, and kept pace with the Cougars the entire game. Temple actually took a one-point lead with 1:22 left in the game; however, Clayton Tune found wide receiver Matthew Golden open for a beautiful 44-yard touchdown pass with 40 seconds left to seal the UH victory.

A bright spot for Houston was RB Stacy Sneed, who rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns. 

Coming off the previous week's shellacking at SMU, Houston's defense gave up 533 total yards to Temple in this game. Before the season began, UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk was being hyped up as a future head coach. Once the season ends, he's likely to find himself unemployed. 

What It Means: The Cougars are now bowl-eligible with two games left to play in the 2022 season.

Due to my upcoming trip, I will not be able to watch or attend either of the final two games. If I had to guess, the Coogs will lose at East Carolina and defeat Tulsa at home to end with a very mediocre 7-5 record. Then it's on to a minor bowl game.

This is not what anybody expected when the season started, and it's certainly not a harbinger of success as the program moves to the Big 12 next year.

The Astros claim their second World Series title

Although it's old news at this point, I want to belatedly acknowledge the Astros' second World Series championship

To the extent that there is such a thing as a "must win" sports title, this was it. A third-straight World Series loss would not only have been a grave disappointment, considering how well the team did this year, but it would also have solidified the "the Astros can't win unless they cheat" narrative from the team's legions of haters across the nation.  

This championship puts the sign-stealing scandal that tainted the Astros' 2017 title firmly in the past, and proves that the Astros in their current iteration are a team that can cleanly win it all. The haters can continue to hate, but they can't put an asterisk next to this championship. This one is legit.

Of course, it was also important for the Astros to win one for Dusty. Dusty Baker is a Hall of Famer regardless, but he needed that World Series win as a manager to round out his storied career. 

Finally, for longtime fans, this World Series title heals a wound that goes all the way back to the 1980 NLCS, when the Astros lost to the Phillies in heartbreaking fashion. Twice, they were six outs away from their first World Series appearance. And twice, they choked. 42 year later, the franchise gets a measure of revenge on Philadelphia.

To be honest, I wasn't particularly optimistic about the Astros's prospects for victory in this Fall Classic, because they were facing another NL East team that was red-hot coming into the World series, just as the Nationals were in 2019 and the Braves were in 2021. And indeed, after Justin Verlander's meltdown in Game 1, and again after Lance McCullers, Jr got blasted for five home runs in Game 5, I got that feeling of dread familiar to every Houston sports fan. 

But the Astros imposed their dominance in amazing fashion - the Game 3 no-hitter (only the second no-no in World Series history!), Chas McCormick's amazing home-run-robbing catch in Game 5, Yordan Álvarez's monster three-run blast in the deciding Game 6 - and won it all in front of their fans at Minute Maid Park. 

Justin Verlander finally got the "no wins in the World Series" monkey off his back. Jermey Peña became the first rookie position player to win World Series MVP. Trey Mancini winning a World Series after battling colon cancer. There's no shortage of happy stories with this team.

Since the 2017 season, the Astros have won five AL West titles, have gone to the ACLS six times in a row, have gone to the World Series four times, and have won it all twice. This is the longest sustained period of success in Houston sports history, so much so that the team is now being described as a "dynasty."

Add this to the fact that the Astros have utterly *owned* the fabled New York Yankees in the postseason during this run, and it becomes all the more amazing postseason, and it becomes all the more amazing for Houston sports fans such as myself. There was a time were I wouldn't have even conceived that this was possible. 

So congratulations, guys. You've made us proud.

Here's a compilation of the top ten plays of the 2022 World Series:

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Houston 42, South Florida 27

A homecoming victory over a struggling South Florida squad has the Cougars just one win away from bowl eligibility. 

The Good: Quarterback Clayton Tune passed for 380 yards and four touchdowns. Tune becomes the 3rd quarterback in UH history to pass for 10,000 yards in his career. Freshman running back Stacy Sneed ran for sixty yards, including the first two touchdowns of his career.  

The Bad: The Cougars started the game a bit sluggishly. After scoring first, the Coogs let the Bulls rack up two unanswered touchdowns to briefly take the lead. Penalties continue to be an issue for the Cougars as well. They were flagged 10 times for 95 yards.

The Cougar defense gave up a rather disappointing 429 total yards of offense to the Bulls. Fortunately, the Bulls were not able to convert those yards into points; they were only one of four on 4th down conversions, and USF's final score was in garbage time.

What it Means: Houston is on a three-game winning streak, and needs only one more win to become bowl-eligible.

Next up for Houston is a trip up I-45 to play SMU.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Houston 30, Navy 28

The Cougars traveled to Annapolis and came back home with a solid win.

The Good: Clayton Tune passed for 261 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions. Two of those touchdown passes were caught by freshman wide receiver Sam Brown. Another freshman, running back Stacy Sneed, rushed for 100 yards. The Cougar defense intercepted Midshipmen QB Tui Lavatai twice and only allowed two Navy scores (one of which was a touchdown in garbage time). Defensive lineman Nelson Ceasar blocked a Navy field goal attempt. 

The Bad: The Cougars fumbled the ball three times, one of which was scooped up by Navy for a defensive score. 

The Encouraging: The Cougars committed only 4 penalties for 25 yards the entire game, and were not flagged at all in the first half. 

What It Means: While 2-5 Navy is not going to be confused for a good team, this is nevertheless an important win for the Coogs - by far, their most complete game of the year - and a road win to boot. With this victory, the Cougars now have a 4-3 record.

Next up for the Coogs is a home date against South Florida.

Andy Yanez and Ryan share their thoughts.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

SOFIA flies off into the sunset

Last month, a unique flying observatory made its final flight:

NASA’s one-of-a-kind 747 SOFIA flying telescope flew its final mission on Sep 28, wrapping up a career revealing mysteries of the universe that will keep astronomers busy for years to come.

SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) was a unique airborne observatory operated by NASA in partnership with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). It was a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry an embedded telescope, and was able to fly into the stratosphere at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet. That put the flying observatory above 99 percent of Earth’s infrared-blocking atmosphere, allowing astronomers to study space in ways not possible with ground-based telescopes.

Engineers modified a Boeing 747SP to carry the DLR’s 38,000-pound, 100-inch reflective telescope. They also developed a “garage door” on the plane that rolled up to let the telescope work, as the plane flies above clouds and water vapor. SOFIA was also equipped with interchangeable instruments, to help the telescope make the right type of observations for a given mission.

It was one of the largest open ports ever flown on an aircraft, and the largest certified to fly at all altitudes and speeds with the door open. Pilots couldn’t even feel when the door was open. The stability of the telescope itself was equivalent to keeping a laser pointer steady on a penny from 10 miles away.

SOFIA was fully operational for 8 years, and logged 732 nights of observing. It helped astronomers worldwide study a wide range of cosmic events and objects invisible to other telescopes.

SOFIA was based out of Palmdale, California for most of the year, but would occasionally fly missions out of Christchurch, New Zealand to scan the skies over the southern hemisphere as well (here's a map of all 732 of its flights). The long-range, high-altitude 747SP, aircraft, previously in service with Pan Am and United, was ideally suited for this purpose.

NASA deemed the flying observatory as too expensive to operate past its 2021 fiscal year, which is why its mission ended at the end of September. It's a bit sad, but just another instance of the obsolescence of four-engined aircraft such as the 747SP. 

NASA inventories the ways in which "SOFIA changed our understanding of the universe," including the detection of the first type of molecule to ever form in the universe and insights into star formation.   accomplished by SOFIA during its mission. Sumeet Kulkarni details some of the instruments used and discoveries made by by the flying telescope. Simple Flying hopes the aircraft will end up at a museum once it is fully decommissioned; the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy complex at Dulles Airport outside of Washington, DC and Space Center Houston are possibilities.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Houston 33, Memphis 32

I still don't believe what I saw last Friday night. 

After playing three quarters of mistake-ridden, uninspired football, the Houston Cougars rallied from a 19-point deficit in the fourth quarter to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against the Memphis Tigers at Liberty Bowl Stadium.

The Good: After Memphis kicked a field goal to take a 29-13 lead with eight minutes in the game, the Cougars went on a 20-3 run sparked by a Jayce Rogers 100-yard kickoff return. The Cougars scored a touchdown on their next possession thanks in part to QB Clayton Tune converting two fourth-and-longs, one of which was a sack-evading scramble on 4th and 11 that Ryan calls Ryan calls "the play of the year." The Coogs also got lucky when a Tiger defender dropped a sure interception off a tipped pass. 

Then the Cougars recovered the onside kick attempt. Then they scored once more to take the lead with 18 seconds left. Then they sacked Memphis QB Seth Henigan at midfield as time expired to seal the win... You just have to see it to believe it:

The Bad: The entire game up until the fourth-quarter rally had been crap. The UH offense sputtered, managing only seven points through three quarters. Through three quarters Tune had 220 passing yards but only one touchdown to show for it, and he also threw an interception. The Houston defense allowed Henigan to rack up 241 passing yards, a touchdown and no interceptions; the Tigers gained another 156 yards and a score on the ground. The Cougars committed seven penalties for 75 yards - better than previous games, but still bad.

With 3:30 left in the game, Memphis had a
99.9% chance of victory, according to ESPN
The Ugly: The Cougars left lots of points on the field before their rally. Bubba Baxa missed a chip-shot field goal at the end of the first half (by the end of the game he would be replaced by Kyle Ramsey), and the Cougars failed to score from the Memphis 1 yard line early in the second half. They also failed to convert two two-point conversion attempts. 

Make some of those scores, and maybe this rally wouldn't have been quite as necessary.

What It Means: Add this game to the list of miracle comebacks the Cougars have accomplished in recent program history (Ryan inventories them, including the miracle comeback against Pitt in the 2014 Armed Forces Bowl). In addition to being exciting for the fans, it's a much-needed confidence boost for the players. And the fact that it occurred against a nemesis like Memphis makes it all the better. 

But it also masks some continuing problems for the team, including slow starts by the offense and lapses by the defense. 

The Coogs are now 3-3 heading into a much-needed week off. They're just a couple of plays away from being 5-1. 

They're also just a couple of plays from being 0-6. 

Andy Yanez shares his observations.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Houston 24, Tulane 27

Another late-game collapse by the UH defense. Another overtime. Another loss.

The Good: In the fourth quarter and trailing by seven points, the Cougars put together back-to-back touchdown drives that were as clean and as creative as anything the UH offense has managed all season. QB Clayton Tune was 6 for 7 on these two drives for 96 yards and a touchdown (to Nathaniel Dell), while RB Brandon Campbell, who was held out of last week's game, added eight carries for 24 yards and a touchdown. In between the two scoring drives, the UH defense held Tulane to a three-and-out. Did I mention that there were no penalties?

These two fourth-quarter drives gave the Cougars the lead and showed what the UH offense is capable of accomplishing if they played balanced, mistake-free football. Alas, so much of the team's offensive production this season has been anything but mistake-free.

The Bad: Tulane QB Kai Horton was the team's third-string quarterback, but you wouldn't know it by the way he played. Nowhere was this more evident on Tulane's last drive of regulation. Down seven and with 3:40 on the clock, Horton methodically marched the Green Wave 75 yards down the field in two minutes and 25 seconds to tie the game. Horton's shovel pass to Tyrick James on fourth-and-goal made the entire Houston defense, including DC Doug Belk, look utterly stupid. Horton ended the game with 132 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Ugly: Oh, where to begin? Let's see...

  • Houston's offense struggled in the first half. The Coogs' first three drives were a punt, a blocked field goal, and a punt. The field goal attempt was actually Baxa's second; the Cougar sideline, for whatever reason, called timeout during his first attempt. Which makes this the first time I have seen a football team ice its own kicker.
  • Tune fumbled the ball during a QB sneak in the third quarter, and Tulane ran the recovered fumble back 57 yards for a score. 
  • A promising clock-chewing, 15-play drive for Houston in the second half ended in yet another missed Bubba Baxa field goal attempt.
  • Houston's overtime possession was an uninspired three-and-out that resulted in Baxa's only successful field goal try of the evening.
  • During Tulane's overtime, Houston was flagged for a pass interference penalty that put the Green Wave ten yards closer to the goal line. They scored the game winning touchdown two plays later (The Cougars were "only" flagged nine times for 70 yards this game... Improvement?).

"Ugly" is the only way to describe the state of Houston Cougar football right now. 

What It Means: The Coogs came into their three-game home stand hoping to heal what ailed them; instead, they dropped two out of three and currently possess a 2-3 record. Right now I'm struggling to see where any remaining wins will come from. 

Given next season's conference move, this will also likely be the last time Houston plays Tulane for awhile. The Coogs now have an 19-8 all-time record against the Green Wave; Ryan takes stock of a rivalry coming to an end.

Houston has another Friday night game next week, this time at Memphis. 

Chris Baldwin laments the lack of the creative offense that was supposed to be Dana Hologrsen's hallmark. Andy Yanez takes stock of another overtime loss. Ryan plainly notes that the Cougars just aren't a good team right now.

Billy Joel at Minute Maid Park

A couple of Fridays ago, Corinne and I went to see Billy Joel play at Minute Maid Park. Seeing the legendary New York singer-songwriter in person was something of a bucket list item for both of us. It was our first time seeing a concert at the baseball stadium as well.

Billy Joel obviously has a considerable repertoire, and he managed to fit his biggest hits into the two-hour-long concert, including "Just The Way You Are," "The Longest Time," "My Life," "You May Be Right," "Uptown Girl," "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me," and, of course, "Piano Man."  Several songs of his that I'm less familiar with, such as "The Entertainer," "Pressure," "Allentown" and the epic "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" also made the setlist.

I was hoping to hear "I Go To Extremes" while Corinne was looking forward to hearing "The Downeaster Alexa." Neither song made the setlist, unfortunately; in fact, the only track off Storm Front was his Boomer history lesson that everyone claims to hate but can still sing along to, "We Didn't Start The Fire." (Joel needs to release an updated version of that song that captures all the crazy shit that's happened over the past eight years or so, and title it "This Is A Dumpster Fire.")

In addition to his own music, Joel sprinkled his performance with covers from The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen (who, like Joel, was born in 1949), and ZZ Top. His guitarist, who has some considerable vocal talent of his own, treated the audience to a rendition of the Italian aria "Nessun Dorma," and Joel's percussionist (who also had impressive vocal skills) spliced "Dancing in the Street" into the middle of "River of Dreams."Allowing members of his band to take over a couple of songs gave Joel a chance to rest his vocal cords, although he continued playing the piano the entire time. All in all, pretty good enegy for a 73-year-old man.

It's worth remembering that Joel has not put out a new album since 1993 - almost 30 years. Yet he's still such a legend that he can fill a 40-thousand seat baseball stadium with his fans.

That said, I'm not sure Minute Maid Park is going to become a preferred concert venue for me. The acoustics were fine, but a venue that large means that you don't have a great view of the person performing unless you want to pay the big bucks for the field seats. Billy Joel's stage was set up in deep center field, while most of the audience sat in the stadium's seating area. The distance was considerable; being in the 400 level on the first base side, Joel was little more than a dot to our eyes. The big screens were partially obscured by speakers and other equipment as well. I wish I hadn't forgotten my binoculars. 

However, the bottom line is that my wife and I finally got to see Billy Joel live, and had a great time.

The concert setlist is here, while the Houston Press's concert review is here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Houston 34, Rice 27

The Cougars went into their game against crosstown rival Rice as 17-point favorites. They struggled to pull out a seven-point win.

The Good: Cougar wideout Nathaniel "Tank" Dell had seven receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown, while RB Ta'Zhawn Henry carried 17 times for 112 rushing yards and a score. On defense, D'Anthony Jones had two sacks and two forced fumbles against Rice QB TJ McMahon, the second of which was scooped up and run into the endzone by defensive lineman Nelson Ceaser for a touchdown. Backup safety Thabo Mwaniki intercepted McMahon on Rice's following drive, which should have sealed the win as there were only about two minutes left in the game. However... 

The Bad: The Cougars failed to manage a first down (which would have allowed them to run out the clock) on their ensuing possession. They punted the ball back to the Owls, who were able to march down the field and almost score a game-tying touchdown with 24 seconds left on the clock (and no time outs). Sound familiar?

The Ugly: The usual: horrible tackling, an oftentimes-sputtering offense, poor pass defense (Houston allowed McMahon to pass for 334 yards), and penalties (ten flags for for 110 yards). The Cougars are now the most-penalized team in FBS. 

Dana Holgorsen is frustrated with his team. If message boards and social media are any indication, Cougar fans are frustrated with Dana Holgorsen.

The Devastating: Houston's best defensive player, Derek Parish, suffered a torn bicep during the game and is out for the rest of the season. Given that linebacker Malik Robinson suffered a season-ending injury the week before, and linebacker Donovan Mutin, defensive back Gervarrius Owens and cornerback Art Green are all dealing with injuries that could keep them out of the next game, things are truly dire on the defensive side of the ball. 

What It Means: The Cougars retain possession of the Bayou Bucket, and end their out-of-conference slate with a 2-2 record. However, UH could very easily be 0-4 right now. This is not a good team, and injuries have made it worse.

The Coogs open conference play against Tulane at TDECU Stadium on Friday.

Andy Yanez, Ryan Monceaux and Chris Baldwin have more.