Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Houston 17, Connecticut 20

Yep. It was a trap game.

The Good: Brandon Wilson returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. The Cougar defense only allowed two UConn field goals off of four UH turnovers.

The Bad: Those four turnovers (two fumbles, two interceptions) tell the story of the afternoon for the Coogs. The offense was held to a season-low 318 yards and one touchdown. The defense was burned on a trick play for a UConn touchdown. Elandon Roberts was ejected from the game after being called for targeting, and knocking out of the game, UConn starting QB Bryant Shirreffs.

The Ugly: The Cougars had a lot of injuries going into this game, and appear to have even more as a result of it. Kyle Postma started behind center in place of an injured Greg Ward Jr, but he was so ruthlessly battered by the Husky defense - the makeshift offensive line, itself ravaged by injuries, simply could not protect him - that he had to be replaced by Ward in the fourth quarter. Running back Kenneth Farrow was injured late in the game as well.

What it means: Houston's quest for an undefeated season is over, but they still have a chance to win the ACC's Western Division and advance to the Conference Championship with a win over Navy at TDECU stadium next Saturday. But they need to get healthy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Houston 35, Memphis 34

I'm still not sure how the Cougars managed to win this one:
Perhaps it was playing before a record crowd crammed inside of TDECU Stadium. Maybe it was playing a 8-1 Memphis football team that was the best opponent the University of Houston had faced the entire season. It could be as simple as sideline guests JJ Watt and DeAndre Hopkins contaminating the Cougars with the crapiness of the Houston Texans.

No matter the reason, for the first 29 minutes of the Saturday night’s game, the Cougars weren't playing like an undefeated college football team. Down 20-0, having gained just 24 yards on offense with only four first downs for the game, the Cougars appeared dead in the water. Then quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. was knocked out of the game, and under backup Kyle Postma, the offense sprang to life, scoring on a 30-yard pass from Postma to Linell Bonner just before the half.

Still the Cougars were down 34-14 with 14 minutes remaining in the game and hopes of the perfect season, the conference title, and a New Year’s Bowl were rapidly falling away. Of the 282 teams that have trailed by at least 20 points in the fourth quarter, none have come back to the win, and UH was positioned to become number 283. But as the clock reached zero, after the 48-yard field goal attempt of Memphis’ Jake Elliott went wide right, the Cougars were the somewhat miraculous 35-34 victors to go 10-0 on the season. (See our slideshow of photos from the game here.)
The Good: Kyle Postma. He completed 21 of 33 passes for 236, a touchdown and no interceptions. He also rushed for 49 yards and another TD. Demarcus Ayers led all receivers with 13 receptions for 127 yards. While the Memphis defense managed to hold the Cougar ground attack to less than 100 yards, they still managed to give up four rushing TDs. Houston's defense had a rough day, but still forced two turnovers and, at games' end, keep Memphis at the very edge of Elliot's field goal range, resulting in the game-saving miss.

The Bad: Greg Ward Jr had perhaps his worst start at QB (fortunately, his ankle injury isn't serious). Memphis gained 278 yards through the air - Tiger QB Paxton Lynch was 20-for-32 passing with two touchdowns and an interception - and 212 yards on the ground. They manhandled Houston's defensive line and converted 12 of 19 third downs. Houston receivers dropped several catchable passes.

The Ugly: There's really no other way to describe the first half. The Tigers had Ward rattled and the running game contained; Houston's first six possessions all ended in punts. In the second half, Memphis defender Reggis Ball purposely tried to injure Ayers by twisting his leg after a play was whistled dead. This thug move should have gotten him ejected, but the referees didn't even see it. In fact, the officiating of this game was blatantly one-sided, with many calls (or non-calls) benefitting the Tigers.

The Beautiful: 42,159 was the largest on-campus crowd in the history of University of Houston football. The fans were loud, and the overwhelming majority stayed until the end even though things looked bleak on more than one occasion. I would like to think that this game represents a turning point in terms of this city's support of Cougar football.

What it means:
It was probably a game the Cougars should have lost. It was definitely a game that, in recent years past, the Cougars would have lost. But Herman’s got this team believing that it can do anything. And it’s a team that’s dealt with lots of adversity this season — the offensive line has been hit by injury after injury, Postma started the season as a back-up wide receiver, key contributors on defense were missing this game because of injury, the receiver and running back cops are decimated by injury, and yet the Cougars found a way to pull out the win, go to 10-0 on the season. And yet all that matters for Herman is winning the conference title.
The conference title is still a few steps away, but it became much more realistic after last Saturday's miraculous finish. Next up for the Coogs is their first-ever trip to Storrs, Connecticut to face the Huskies. Trap game, anyone?

Rockets fire Kevin McHale

Can't say I was expecting this:
Eleven games into a 4-7 Houston Rockets season that has sped past concerning and is careening toward disastrous, Alexander pulled the trigger and fired head coach Kevin McHale, as first reported by Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski. Assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff will be the interim head coach when the team takes on Portland tonight at Toyota Center.

The move comes as a surprise, insomuch as nobody could have foreseen this coming when the season began. However, it was evident from opening night that this team had major issues. They lost their first three games of the season, each by 20 points, before going on a four game winning streak. However, that string of wins was followed by four more losses, many of the same embarrassing variety as the first three losses of the season.

A 111-95 loss to Boston at home Monday night, a game the Rockets led midway through the third quarter, was the final straw. The Rockets' brass had seen enough. McHale had clearly lost his players and the confidence of the franchise, and he was done.

The team had plenty of excuses for its poor start — injuries, the integration of Ty Lawson, the close association with the Kardashians (ok, I made up that last one) — but it all boils down to this team's treatment of defense as optional instead of integral, and energy levels that fluctuate worse than those of a narcoleptic. In short, this team just doesn't appear to give a shit. At the very least, they didn't give a shit about McHale or they wouldn't have been habitually losing to lottery teams by double digits.
The performance of the Rockets this season has certainly been disappointing, especially coming off their success at the end of last season. Nevertheless, it's a bit unexpected to see the same guy who coached this team to that success last season get the axe so early this season.

With that said: Les Alexander has owned the Rockets long enough to know that Houston is a fair-weather, front-runner sports town, and he probably understood that his franchise was hemorrhaging the interest and goodwill it created among local sports fans with its abysmal performance to start the 2015-16 season. Realizing that dwindling fan support equals dwindling revenues, Alexander decided to make a change at the top. Whether it makes a difference on the court remains to be seen - that discussion is for people who know more about basketball than I do - but at least Alexander can show local fans that he's being proactive, thereby holding their interest in his product.

No word as to when the Rockets will announce McHale's permanent replacements, but there are plenty of potential candidates.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Houston 33, Cincinnati 30

The Cougars faced their toughest test of the year in the rain last Saturday, but came away with a close victory after the Cougar defense forced four straight incompletions on Cincinnati's last possession.

The Good: The Cougar defense accounted for 9 of Houston's 33 points. Brandon Wilson intercepted Cincinnati QB Gunner Kiel and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown. Kiel was also sacked in the endzone for a safety. UH special teams recovered a muffed Cincinnati punt, which would later lead to a score. The Cougar offense employed a clock-chewing, grind-it-out approach in the rain, amassing 266 yards on 66 carries and maintaining possession for 37 and a half minutes. Keeping the ball out of the hands of the Bearcat offense was a good idea, because...

The Bad: Kiel absolutely torched the Houston secondary for 523 passing yards and four touchdowns. Until the final series of the game, the Cougar defense simply had no answer for him and his receivers. Greg Ward threw two interceptions. Running back Ryan Jackson left the game with a broken collarbone and is out for the rest of the season. Cornerback William Jackson III suffered a knee injury and is probably going to miss the next two games.

The Ugly: The Bearcats amassed 11 penalties, three of which were unsportsmanlike conduct flags - including one on coach Tommy Tuberville - after a single play. The Cincinnati meltdown led to an easy Houston score. Another Houston touchdown, however, was called back on a highly-questionable offensive pass interference penalty.

What it Means: The Cougars remain undefeated and, at 9-0, have surpassed last season's win total. Next up is a home game against a ranked Memphis team whose own aspirations for an undefeated season came to an end last weekend against Navy. The Tigers will be angry, and if Memphis QB Paxton Lynch is anywhere as close as effective against the Houston secondary as Kiel was, the Cougars could be in for a long afternoon.

The Houston Press's John Royal (who appears to have borrowed the "good, bad, ugly" format from me!) has more.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Houston 34, Vanderbilt 0

The Cougars put together their most dominating performance of the season on a rainy Halloween night, shutting out Vanderbilt and remaining undefeated.

The Good: The Cougar defense was obviously the story of the evening. They forced a fumble and three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by William Jackson III, and held the Commodores to a paltry 185 yards of total offense. On the offensive side of the ball, Quarterback Greg Ward Jr completed 15 of 23 passes for 221 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He also rushed for 33 yards and a touchdown. Kenneth Farrow led all rushers with 82 yards and a touchdown.

The Bad: Ward fumbled the ball twice in the rain, and was held below his per-game rushing average for the year. Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, it didn't matter.

The Ugly: There really wasn't anything ugly about this game, other than the weather. And while I know that there's no point in complaining about attendance, I would have liked to have seen a crowd larger than 29,565 at this game. Yes, it was raining, parts of the city had flooded earlier in the day, and a lot of people had Halloween activities to attend. But I was really expecting an undefeated, ranked team playing an SEC opponent to draw a bit better. Coach Tom Herman is not impressed, either.

What it Means: This was Houston's first shutout of an SEC school since 1969 (when they blanked Mississippi State 74-0). The Coogs beat the Commodores, who won against Missouri last week, by 17 points more than Georgia, 23 more than Ole Miss and 25 more than South Carolina. Where's our SEC invite?

The 8-0 Cougars host Cincinnati on Saturday for homecoming. The Bearcats will be the best team, record-wise, that the Coogs have faced this season.

Hopefully the crowd will be more to my - and coach Herman's - liking.