Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Houston 47, Nevada - Las Vegas 14

The Cougars took care of business at TDECU stadium last Saturday night, and ended their non-conference schedule with a 2-2 record.

The Good:  The Cougar offense finally got the ground game going, racking up 399 total rushing yards. RB Ryan Jackson had 147 yards on 13 carries, RB Kenneth Farrow had 113 yards and 14 carries, and four of Houston's six touchdowns came on runs. The UH defense, meanwhile, held the Rebels to 16 first downs the entire game and intercepted UNLV three times.

The Bad: QB John O'Korn threw two interceptions, and receivers are still dropping catchable balls. Kicker Kyle Bullard missed an extra point. And why are the Cougars fair-catching punts inside their own ten yard line?

The Ugly: Too many penalties detracted from the overall quality of the game. Houston was flagged nine times for 110 yards and UNLV had 11 flags for 105 yards. Also, although it worked to Houston's advantage, the humidity's effect on the UNLV players was brutal. The Rebel players simply couldn't adjust from the dry desert air of Las Vegas to the steamy conditions of a Houston September night, and were dropping like flies from cramps in the second half.

What it Means: Houston finally gets its first win of the season over an FBS opponent, although nobody is going to mistake UNLV for a good team. A better, and more important, test for the Cougars comes a week from Thursday, when they host the Central Florida Golden Knights.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Houston 25, BYU 33

The 25th-ranked Blue Cougars got the better of the Red Cougars in Provo, Utah last Thursday evening.

The Good: What started out looking like a blowout - BYU led Houston 23-0 at one point in the second quarter - actually turned into a competitive game when the Coogs scored fifteen unanswered points, including a 45-yard hail mary strike from John O'Korn to Daniel Spencer at the end of the first half. This scoring opportunity was created after the Houston recovered a BYU fumble. O'Korn, for his part, actually had a decent night, completing 30 of 57 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. The UH defense, meanwhile, was able to regroup after falling behind early and hold a potent BYU offense to 10 points in the second half. Although QB Taysom Hill had a relatively good night against Houston, he was also sacked four times and intercepted twice. Houston did not turn the ball over the entire night.

The Bad: The Houston rushing attack continues to be non-existent against FBS competition, managing only 10 rushing yards the entire night. The lack of a running game, along with O'Korn's 27 incomplete passes, made for a horribly inefficient UH offense: they managed only 18 first downs the entire night, while BYU managed 32. The Cougar defense, meanwhile, was torched for 323 BYU rushing yards: Taysom Hill ran for 160 yards, while Jamaal Williams ran for 139.

The Ugly: The safety Houston gave up early in the game was both poorly-called and poorly-executed. Kicker Kyle Bullard had a rough night, missing two extra points and a field goal attempt. And the UH offensive line continues to be an absolute disaster.

What it Means: This one could have been a lot worse; honestly, one gets the sense that BYU became unfocused and let their foot off the gas when they jumped out to such a large early lead. That being said, the Coogs played respectably in a game nobody expected them to win.

Next up for Houston is UNLV at TDECU Stadium on Saturday.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

In other local sports news...

Congratulations to the Astros, who will manage not to lose 100 games for the first time since the 2010 season. The Astros' success this year, if you can call it that, was not enough to save the job of manager Bo Porter. Apparently it wasn't the Astros' win-loss record so much as it was tension between him and general manager Jeff Luhnow that cost him his job after less than two seasons. I was skeptical of the Porter hire at the time - I felt the Astros were in such dire condition that they needed a manager with more experience - but I wish him the best nevertheless. The Astros' next manager will hopefully be somebody with experience as well as the ability to see eye-to-eye with team management.

The Texans, meanwhile, proved me wrong by opening their 2014 season with a 16-7 victory over the  Redskins last Sunday, to notch their first regular-season victory in 51 weeks. The Redskins are awful, mind you, so I'm not prepared to declare the team's troubles over, but hopefully they'll do better than 2-14 this fall. The talent is definitely there on defense - it's not hyperbole to call J.J. Wat the best defensive player in the entire NFL - but the squad needs to stay healthy. In that regard, the injury to first-round draft pick Jadeveon Clowney, which was apparently caused by a seam in the grass at NRG Stadium, is not an encouraging way to start the season. Fortunately, he will only miss a handful of weeks and is not out for the season.

The Texans only managed 10 points on offense (the other touchdown was the result of superb special teams play on a blocked punt), which is not going to win many games. I'm still not sold on new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he's only the second-most important player in this offense. Please, Arian Foster, stay healthy.

Oh, and the Dynamo won last weekend as well. That's their third win in four games, but they still have more work to do if they want to make it to the MLS playoffs. 

All in all it was - relatively speaking - a good weekend for Houston sports.

(And yes, this will probably be the last time I mention the Astros or the Dynamo on this blog for awhile.)

Houston 47, Grambling 0

After an embarrassing loss to open their new stadium last week, the Cougars got back to their winning ways with an easy win over Grambling State last Saturday.

The Good: the Houston offense took advantage of a porous Tiger defense to get back on track, amassing a total of 477 yards, including 275 on the ground. Greg Ward saw some action at quarterback as well, reprising last season's role as a second threat behind center. He ended the night with one rushing touchdown and one passing touchdown. The defense, meanwhile, forced six turnovers, including a fumble returned for a touchdown late in the game.

The Bad: starting quarterback John O'Korn is still having accuracy issues. He completed 14 of 25 passes for 200 yards for only one touchdown on Saturday, and some of his passes weren't even close. Also, too many Houston drives stalled out and ended with field goals. he Cougar offense did not find the endzone at all in the second half. Quite honestly, the Cougars should have beaten this hapless squad by more than 47 points.

The Ugly: aside from their six turnovers, Grambling was flagged 15 times for 147 yards. They are not a good team. For the Cougars, the true ugliness will come on Thursday, when the Cougars travel to Provo, Utah after a short week of rest to play the same BYU Cougars that just obliterated the Longhorns in Austin.

What it Means: it's a win, and wins are good. But aside from that, this game doesn't mean much. Grambling State is one of the worst teams in all of Division 1, having won only two games in the last two seasons. The Cougars need to show that they can beat somebody other than the dregs of FCS before I'll start feeling better about their chances for success in 2014.

Southwest Airlines has a new look

It's very, um, blue.
Southwest Airlines on Monday unveiled a new logo amid a brand overhaul that includes a new look for its aircraft. The new "Heart" paint scheme will be the carrier's first new livery since it introduced its current "Canyon Blue" look in 2001.
                                                                                                                                                            photo: Southwest Airlines
                                                                                                                                                        photo: Southwest Airlines
 The Chronicle's Erin Mulvaney explains ($) that the airline's new look is intended to signal a new era for Southwest as it finishes its absorption of onetime low-cost rival Airtran and begins international service of its own:
The Texas-based carrier on Monday unveiled a new heart-themed logo that will be branded on everything from the underside of its aircraft to its in-flight magazines. Showing off the design change with a pair of freshly repainted 737 jetliners at Dallas' Love Field, Southwest's home hub, executives said the changes represent not a rebranding but a restatement of the airline's customer-friendly nature even as it embarks on a new era that includes international flights.

"It's not a new Southwest, it's an evolved Southwest," the president and CEO, Gary Kelly, said during an event at company headquarters here.

The new aircraft design is dominated by a deeper blue and includes a striped red, yellow and blue tail. The name is emblazoned on the side in a bold sans serif typeface, and the heart-shaped logo of blue, yellow and red is displayed near the door and on the belly.

Southwest, traditionally a low-cost, short-haul carrier, will introduce international flights to the Caribbean and Mexico and celebrate the end of restrictions for longer nonstop flights out of its Dallas hub in the next several weeks.

In Houston, it is funding an international hub at Hobby Airport that will allow it to offer flights to Latin America by 2016.
                                                                                                                                                        photo: Southwest Airlines
Personally, I'm not sure I like the new look. The fuselage looks bland and boring without the red underbelly, and removing the airline's name from its tailfin - were it has been since the airline's inception - seems almost blasphemous. Then there's the heart logo: yes, I get that a heart has always been part of the airline's iconography, but putting it on the airplane's belly just seems cheesy. Perhaps the new look will grow on me over time.

What's more interesting is what the look might represent for Southwest as it completes its evolution from a short-haul, regional carrier to the nation's fourth-largest carrier offering international service. Already, there is evidence that one of the things that made Southwest unique  - the so-called "Southwest Effect" - no longer exists. Does this new look signal that Southwest is about to become "just another carrier" that assigns seats and charges for bags? I shudder at the thought.

Southwest officials say that it could take as long as seven years for the entire fleet to be repainted. Along with the new paint scheme will come new branding at airports, new uniforms for flight staff, and a new marketing campaign. The new logo and look has already made it to the airline's website.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Houston 7, Texas - San Antonio 27

The University of Houston opened a brand new, 40,000-seat football stadium last Friday night. It's too bad the football team itself forgot to show up for the occasion.

The Good: this cool Gigapixel photo of TDECU Stadium taken right before the second quarter. If you look closely, you can see Kirby, my parents and myself sitting in section 309.

The Bad: I knew the offensive line was going to be a weak spot going into the season. But I really didn't think they would be as utterly dominated as they were against the Roadrunners. I knew that Travis Bush was probably not the greatest offensive coordinator in the world. But the sputtering, misfiring, predictable offense looked like it lacked coaching entirely.

Quarterback John O'Korn had a horrible night. The paper-thin o-line gave him no protection (he was sacked four times), he had frequent miscommunications with his receivers, he was picked off by UTSA four times (he also fumbled once), and when he did get the ball to his receivers they oftentimes dropped catchable passes. The ground game was non-existent; the Coogs had -27 yards rushing on the night.

The Cougar defense tried its best to keep the team in the game, but they simply couldn't overcome being put in bad situations by the inept offense. Up 14-0 at the half, the Roadrunners started the third-quarter with a clock-chewing, 60-yard, 13-play drive that ended with a touchdown. With that, the stunned crowd of 40,755 who had expected to see the Cougars open their new home with a solid win instead began heading for the exits.

Cougar special teams fumbled a punt in the first half which led to UTSA's first score.

The Ugly: the fact that the football team was so soundly defeated in the inaugural game in its new stadium is humiliating. Why was this team so thoroughly unprepared to play on Friday night? And why was this the second time in three years that the Cougars have come out so uninspired and overwhelmed in their season opener? This pathetic display falls on head coach Tony Levine, who may have taken a big step towards the unemployment line on Friday night.

What It Means: My preseason prediction of 8-4 looks pretty optimistic right now. If the Cougars continue to play as poorly as they did last Friday, especially on offense, this team will be lucky to manage three or four wins all season. This loss is also going to take a financial toll to the program, as a lot of casual fans and alums who showed up to see the Cougars play in their new stadium last Friday probably won't be back.

The loss did, however, inspire this hilarious Downfall parody, which made me feel better. For a few minutes, at least.

Next up for the Coogs is Grambling State. The Coogs can at least manage a win against one of the worst teams in FCS, right?