Tuesday, October 25, 2016

#11 Houston 16, SMU 38

There have been some truly unexpected, disappointing and inexcusable losses in recent UH football history (see here, here, here and here), but the expectation was that such losses were a thing of a past as long as Tom Herman was head coach.

Alas, that's not the case.

I'm not going into my normal "good, bad and ugly" format for posts about UH games. Everything about last Saturday's game was ugly, from the two turnovers to Greg Ward Jr's seven sacks to the two missed field goals to the pathetic 62 yards rushing managed by the Cougar offense to the 406 total yards surrendered by the UH defense. There's no sugar-coating this: the #11-ranked team in the nation got manhandled by a team that was 2-4 coming into this game. As a result, the Cougars have fallen out of the top 25, found their way on to ESPN's ignominious Bottom Ten list, and any hope they had of defending their conference title has evaporated.

This is a team in crisis. They are unfocused and demoralized.

They are battered physically: they've played eight weeks without a bye, including two Thursday night games. Injuries are piling up, and this team doesn't have a lot of depth.

They are reeling psychologically: the incessant barrage of "Tom Herman is leaving Houston and going to [insert name of high-profile school here]" from local and national media alike has to be getting to the players, as well as the disappointment of not landing spot in the Big 12.

They are not being helped by some of the decisions their coaches are making. Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite's insistence that the Coogs try to run the ball up the middle - even though UH's inexperienced, makeshift offensive line simply cannot block for those kinds of plays - borders on incompetence. The Cougars managed only 1.8 yards per rush against SMU, and they came away with no points from the SMU 4 yard line after running it up the middle thrice and then missing a field goal. 

Finally, and as much as it pains me to say it, they were probably overrated coming into the season. This team is clearly deficient on the offensive line and in the secondary. The receivers are slow. The kicking game is a disaster. They were amped up to pull off the win over Oklahoma, which was aided by the flukiest play in all of college sports. But it's been all downhill from there.

(Stupid Sports Illustrated jinx...)

Tom Herman has never faced this kind of adversity before, and how he deals with this current situation will say a lot about his coaching abilities (as well as his supposed desirability to blue-blood programs). Can he right the ship?

This team can't play for a conference championship or New Year's Six bowl anymore; they are headed to a third-tier bowl game in Fort Worth, Birmingham or the Bahamas. But they can play for pride, they can knock off a second top-five team when Louisville comes to town next month (unlikely as it seems right now), and they can end the season with 10 wins and a spot in the final top 25. That wasn't the goal when the season began, but it is something.

If Tom Herman and his staff can't right the ship - if the team continues to lose and staggers its way to a 7-5 regular season - then not only will this go down as one of the most disappointing seasons in UH football history, but Tom Herman's abilities as a head coach will be exposed.

Which will it be? We'll find out, starting with Central Florida on Saturday.

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