The Cougars broke their three-game losing streak in convincing fashion at Reliant Stadium last Friday, shutting out the SMU Mustangs and avenging last year's embarrassing blowout.
The Good: for the Coogs, the story of the season is the defense. Three interceptions. Two fumbles. Five sacks. Only 83 rushing yards allowed. And Houston's first shutout of a conference opponent since 1989.
To be fair, things might have been different if SMU's experienced, dual-threat quarterback, Garrett Gilbert, had not been sidelined with a leg injury. But he was unable to play, and his backup, redshirt freshman Neal Burcham, was generally ineffective.
The Cougar offense, meanwhile, regained some semblance of a rhythm after struggling mightily over the past month. With 365 total yards, two touchdowns by air and two more by ground, they scored as many points on Friday as they did in their two previous games combined.
The Bad: although the offense did perform better against SMU than it had against the three previous opponents it faced, it still sputtered at time. Quarterback John O'Korn completed less than 60% of his passes and threw two interceptions, and the running game really didn't get established until late in the game when the outcome was no longer in doubt. The Cougars are going to need to take a close look at their offensive line over the offseason. And, while not as bad as last week, the offensive playcalling was at times truly bizarre.
What it means: The Cougars end the 2013 regular season with an 8-4 record. This three-win improvement over last season exceeded my preseason expectations; considering that they lost their four games by a total of 20 points, with a few breaks here or there it could have been even better! Considering how young this team is - only a handful of seniors are being lost - there's no reason to believe that next year could be even better, provided O'Korn and his counterpart Greg Ward continue to mature, problems with the o-line are remedied, and the defense retains its newfound aggressiveness.
There's one game left to play. By this time next week the Cougars will know which bowl they're going to.