Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Houston 28, Air Force 31

In spite of the fact that Houston held their opponent to zero passing yards (a feat they haven't accomplished since 1955) and mounted a late three-touchdown rally, the Cougars fell to the US Air Force Academy, 28-31, in a wind-driven, sparsely-attended game that, due to Hurricane Ike, was played at SMU's Ford Field in Dallas.

As was the case against Oklahoma State the week before, the Cougars were able to move the ball with ease but were simply unable to stop the opposing team's offense. Quarterback Case Keenum accounted for almost all of Houston's 534 total yards of offense, passing for 362 yards and four touchdowns and scrambling for another 72 yards on the ground. But the Falcons' option-based ground game was simply too much for the Cougars, as they rushed for 380 yards and 31 consecutive points. The Cougars, who also shot themselves in the foot with dropped passes and costly turnovers, clearly did not have their heads in the game. It's hard to blame them when one considers that they were playing merely hours after Hurricane Ike had ravaged their homes, friends and families back in Houston.

An announced crowd of 2,546 was on hand to watch what was technically a "home" game for the Coogs. Air Force had their cheerleaders and band on hand for the game; the Cougars did not.

After three games, the problems facing the Coogs are fairly clear:
  • Run defense: the Cougars simply do not have one.
  • Receivers: still dropping easy passes.
  • Unholy Trinity: eight penalties, minus two in turnover margin, and a special teams squad that gave up 119 return yards on only three kickoff or punt returns.
With that said, it is clear that this game was being played under the spectre of a severe natural disaster that was directly affecting at least one of the schools involved. Should it have been played at all? University of Houston Athletics Director Dave Maggard sent out an e-mail this afternoon to season ticket holders explaining the reasoning as to why the game was not rescheduled or canceled:
Some have asked about playing Air Force this past Saturday in Dallas. It became apparent we needed to evacuate our team out of Houston so they would have a safe place during the hurricane. We relied upon the best weather reports available.

Coach Sumlin, the staff and players wished to play the game for a number of reasons, including possible bowl considerations at the end of the season. Unfortunately we were not able to schedule with Air Force for a date later this year. I conferred with the Conference USA office and CBS College Sports, and officials with both groups assured us that our game would continue to be televised by playing in Dallas on Saturday.

I fully supported Coach Sumlin's wish to play the game if at all possible and discussed the matter with President Khator. She agreed with the decision to play the game in Dallas given the information that CBS College Sports would televise the game and we would have a safe place to play at SMU. As the forecast changed and indicated the possibility of severe weather in Dallas Saturday afternoon, officials with CBS College Sports decided not to televise the game for the safety of their production crew.

We moved the game to 10 a.m. to avoid possible severe afternoon weather conditions. The game was played with light rain off and on and was not an issue during the game. The weather did worsen later in the day with wind and rain. Air Force played a very good game and our Coogs made a run toward the end, but came up just short with the final score being 31-28.

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but once CBS College Sports decided not to televise the game and deteriorating weather conditions forced kickoff to be moved up to 10 am, I think the decision should have been made to simply cancel the game.

I know that the coaches and student-athletes wanted to play this game - the admirable quality of a true competitor is to believe that you can play under any conditions and win - but I'm just not sure it was fair to expect the players to play to their abilities given the extreme circumstances they were in. Aside from that, there are practical repercussions: not only did the UH Athletics Department take a huge financial hit by playing this game - ticketholders for the game here in Houston will have to be refunded or compensated by other means - but under NCAA rules the announced attendance of 2,546 will probably have to be averaged into the Coogs' home attendance number for 2008.

I'm not normally one to make excuses for the Cougars; I'm not going to claim that the result of this game would have been different under ideal conditions (although I suspect it would have been), and Houston's rushing defense is simply inexcusable in any case. But given the circumstances, this game simply should not have been played at all. I know this is going to sound heretical, but some things are, believe it or not, more important than college football.


Anonymous said...

Thomas: HBD, dude!

Thomas said...

Thanks, Steve! I just wish that I had gotten something other than Hurricane Ike for my birthday, but oh well...