Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Flights from Houston to Havana

They become a reality, starting this Saturday.
United Airlines this week will begin nonstop Saturday flights between Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport and Havana, according to the airline. 
United will operate a Boeing 737 for the Houston flight, as well as daily nonstop service between Newark Liberty International Airport and Havana's José Martí International Airport. Newark flights began Tuesday.
This had been in the works for most of the year. The question is whether this service will actually last

#20 Houston 44, Memphis 48

It's tough for the kids to win - especially on the road - when rumors are swirling about their head coach's imminent departure to another school. Such was the case at Memphis last Friday.

The Good: Down seventeen points at the half, the Cougars mounted a 27-point second half rally and actually led the game with a minute and a half remaining. Greg Ward Jr finished the day with 47 completions on 67 attempts for 487 yards and four touchdowns. He and running back Duke Catalon also combined for 125 rushing yards and a touchdown.

The Bad: The rally simply wasn't good enough, as Memphis scored with 19 seconds remaining to win the game. The same UH defense that shut down Louisville the previous week was utterly embarrassed by the Tigers' offense, surrendering six touchdowns and 555 total yards of offense, while creating no turnovers.

The Ugly: Houston turned the ball over twice and committed 10 penalties for 94 yards. And, as expected, Tom Herman left the Cougars to become the head coach of the Texas Longhorns the following day. I'll have more to say about that later.

What It Means: The loss keeps the Cougars from reaching double-digit wins for the second year in a row, ensures a losing record in the AAC West division, and most likely knocks them out of the top 25. In terms of which bowl game the Cougars go to, however, it probably doesn't change anything.

I'd also like to point out that my preseason prediction of a 9-3 season for the Coogs was spot on. I just didn't expect that one of their wins would be against Oklahoma and one of their losses would be against lowly SMU.

Next up for the Cougars is their bowl game, which will be announced this weekend. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando will assume interim head coaching duties for this one while the school, yet again, searches for a new head coach.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Remembering the November 21, 1992 tornado outbreak

Today Space City Weather produced their first installment of Space City Rewind, which looks back at historical weather events in the Houston region. Today's topic was the frightening onslaught of tornadoes across Houston and surrounding counties that occurred exactly 24 yeas ago. Significant damage occurred, but amazingly there were no fatalities.

I remember that day pretty well, because mom and I went to the Sam's Club on Loop 610 south to do some pre-Thanksgiving stocking up and were blissfully unaware of the tornadoes that were streaking across the city as we shopped. We would later learn that one of the most destructive tornadoes missed my cousins, who were living in the Sterling Green subdivision in Channelview at the time, by only a few hundred feet. They were lucky, to say the least; the damage - houses without roofs, etc. - would be visible from their back yard.

The entire article, which (rather wonkily) discusses the atmospheric conditions that caused the tornadoes, the usefulness of then-brand-new Doppler radar in tracking tornadoes, the damage the tornadoes wrought and the aftermath of the disaster, is lengthy but well worth the read. Especially this bottom line:
The takeaway message here is simple: While an outbreak of this magnitude represents an outlier for Southeast Texas, the fact is that it can happen here. Know how to respond to a tornado. Have a plan ready if a tornado is about to bear down on your home. You should also have a method to receive weather warnings at night or when you may be distracted.
All in all, some excellent reporting. You can support them by buying a Space City Weather T-shirt, if you're so inclined!

John Jenkins: ahead of his time?

No coach in the history of the University of Houston football program has been more controversial than John Jenkins, who was the brains behind the Cougars' Run-and-Shoot spectacle of the late '80s and early '90s:
Back then, with coach John Jenkins in charge, Houston was college football's most intriguing and polarizing team. Most coaches believed that defense and running the ball won games; Jenkins laughed at that notion. Instead, his Cougars ran a no-huddle offense and lined up with four receivers on most plays, compiling eye-popping passing statistics and forcing defenses to cover the entire field. 
As precursors to the passing masterminds and spread formations that have transformed contemporary college football, Jenkins and his Houston teams are forgotten disruptors—a coach and a system that were way, way ahead of their time. 
"I think the game's more fun for players now than it was 20 or 30 years ago," says Hal Mumme, a longtime college coach and offensive guru who learned from Jenkins. "And John Jenkins was a big part of changing those attitudes." 
Jenkins only spent six years at Houston: three as offensive coordinator, and three as head coach. He resigned under pressure, and hasn't coached in college again. But he had a lasting impact on the sport. 
Consider: Houston's 1989 offense, which was led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Andre Ware, still holds the NCAA record for passing yards and total yards per game and is second in points per game. One year later, [David] Klingler set several NCAA marks that remain today, including passing yards per game and touchdowns per game. Ware and Klingler, both of whom ran option offenses in high school, became first round NFL draft picks in large part due to their success in Jenkins's offense. 
"It's taken college football 20-some odd years to catch up to what we were doing back then," Klingler says. "And in some ways, they still haven't. That just tells you how much of an offensive genius John Jenkins was."
John Jenkins made a lot of enemies while he was at the University of Houston, especially because of his penchant for running up the score on hapless opponents such as Eastern Washington or an SMU team coming back from the Death Penalty. He focused on offense and neglected defense, with predictable results. He left the UH program under a cloud of scandal* in 1993, after back-to-back losing seasons; his tenure marked the beginning of the nadir of the UH football program. His antics effectively got him blackballed from ever coaching again at the college level; he now is a scout for the Canadian Football League. The Run-and-Shoot offense itself, after having a few years of glory in the NFL in the early 1990s, has now been superseded by newer offensive philosophies.

And with all that said, his offense was something to behold. And it has certainly affected the way football is played, almost 30 years later:
While Jenkins is happy with his current role with the Argonauts, he still thinks about returning to college coaching. How, he wonders, would his offense look now? "If anybody would ever hire him today, it would be the same discussions," Klingler says. "They'd be scoring 95 points against people and everybody would be offended about how he was running up the score. It would be right back to the same thing because he's just that good." 
That said, what if? could be the wrong question. Maybe Jenkins doesn't have to wonder; maybe he just has to look around. Ware, who is now an ESPN college football analyst, said coaches often ask him about his Houston days. When he called the Missouri-Kentucky game on Oct. 29, he noticed Missouri ran some of the same formations and routes that the Cougars did in the late 1980s and 1990s. 
"It's still very prevalent out there, some of the stuff that we did," Ware says. "It's grown. It started as a plant and sprung its own limbs, and now you see what it is today. I think we were the foundation of what you see a lot, not only in college but in some NFL stadiums on Sundays."
(*One oft-repeated story is that he spliced footage of porn into game films to keep the kids' attention.)

Sugar Land gets bigger

A full 33% bigger, in fact:
Sugar Land City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve, on final reading, the annexation of the Greatwood and New Territory areas. 
The areas comprise 3,850 acres of land, and consist of nine municipal utility districts, which will be absorbed into the city.
The annexation takes effect on December 12, and will increase Sugar Land's population from 87,367 to more than 117,000 residents.

This will make Sugar Land the third-largest municipality in the region, behind Houston and Pasadena and ahead of Pearland and League City.

Where would The Woodlands rank among the top five? We'll never know until they actually incorporate...

Houston 36, #3 Louisville 10

Which Houston team was going to show up to play Louisville? The team that upset Oklahoma to start the season, or the team that lost to SMU and struggled to get past the likes of Tulsa, Central Florida and Tulane? It turns out that the former team showed up last Thursday, rather than the latter, and notched a stunning upset before a record TDECU Stadium crowd of 42,822.

The Good: Special teams had a big role in this win. They set the tone of the game by recovering a Louisville fumble on the opening kickoff; the UH offense would convert it into a touchdown on the very next play. Then, in the second quarter, punter Dane Roy passed on a fake punt on fourth down - his only pass attempt this season - to a wide open Byron Simpson for a first down. The Cougars would later score on that possession.

The Better: QB Greg Ward Jr didn't seem to be suffering any affects from a shoulder injury he sustained against Tulane the previous Saturday, as he completed 25 of 44 passes for 233 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions (the Coogs had no turnovers of any kind). RB Duke Catalon had a busy night, rushing for one touchdown and catching for two more, including a 50-yard halfback pass from Linell Bonner that completely befuddled the Cardinal defense. The Coogs did not have a big night rushing the ball, garnering only 64 total yards on the ground, but the offense wasn't the story of this game.

The Best: This win belongs to the Houston defense. Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson was sacked a jaw-dropping eleven times (one of those sacks being a safety late in the game) by a relentless Houston pass rush. True freshman lineman Ed Oliver was in beast mode, with six tackles and two sacks, before leaving the game with an injury in the second half. The UH defense also forced two fumbles. The Louisville offensive line could neither proptect Jackson nor go more than a few plays without a false start penalty, as the crowd noise clearly got to them. Louisville ended the game with 15 penalties including six false start flags.

What It Means: You could argue that Louisville was simply not prepared for this game, and you'd probably be right because they looked lost. However, that's not an excuse - especially since they were fighting for a College Football Playoff spot and have arguably the best offensive player in the nation on their roster - and it should not take anything away from Houston's lights-out performance. This season was a bit of a disappointment for the Coogs, but destroying Louisville before a packed, loud stadium in front of a national ESPN audience was a measure of redemption.

With the win, the Cougars reappear in the Top 25. They travel to Memphis for their final regular-season game on Black Friday.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Houston 30, Tulane 18

The Cougars jumped out to a 28-10 lead at halftime and held on for the homecoming win.

The Good: The Cougars scored a touchdown on a muffed Tulane punt reception early in the first half, and the QB Greg Ward Jr accounted for Houston's other three scores (two TD passes and one rush). LB Tyus Bowser played his first game since being sidelined by an injury last September, and ended the game with 11 tackles and 3 sacks. The defense scored a safety late in the game to seal the win. Punter Dane Roy had a busy evening, punting 11 times; he averaged 44.2 yards per punt.

The Bad: The reason Dane Roy punted so much is because the Cougar offense was completely ineffective, especially in the second half after Greg Ward Jr was playing with an injured shoulder. Tulane actually ended the game with more total yards (341) than the Cougars (287). The Coogs committed 7 penalties for 55 yards and turned the ball over twice.

The Ugly: The Houston offensive line is about as sturdy as your average brand of tissue paper. They cannot block for the run - the Cougars amassed a paltry 66 yards rushing for the entire game - and they gave up four sacks.

What it means: I was really hoping to see the the Cougars play better than this, especially after their halftime revival against UCF and the benefit of an off week to heal. They simply cannot expect to play like this against #3 Louisville on Thursday and be anything close to competitive.

That being said, a win is a win and the Coogs are now 8-2. They have now won at least eight games per season for the past four seasons.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Trump upsets Clinton

I'm not going to spend too much time discussing the election. The outcome was unexpected, to say the least - the pollsters and prognosticators are going to have to do a lot of soul-searching after completely blowing this one - but I'm mainly glad we don't have to go through the sheer ugliness of another presidential election for awhile.

The prediction model used by Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com gave Trump the highest chance of winning the election. Other pundits and pollsters criticized him for it, but in the end his model turned out to be the most correct. He notes that this election would have been completely different had the result been only two percentage points in the other direction:
What would have happened if just 1 out of every 100 voters shifted from Trump to Clinton? That would have produced a net shift of 2 percentage points in Clinton’s direction. And instead of the map you see above, we’d have wound up with this result in the Electoral College instead[…] 
Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida flip back to Clinton, giving her a total of 307 electoral votes. And she’d have won the popular vote by 3 to 4 percentage points, right where the final national polls had the race and in line with Obama’s margin of victory in 2012. If this had happened, the interpretation of the outcome would have been very different[...]
The cold, hard truth is this: Hillary Clinton failed to swing those two percentage points her way - she failed to win the presidency - because she was a poor candidate. She was uninspiring, secretive, severely compromised, and the epitome of a political insider when it was clear that voters wanted something else. As I noted in regards to John Kerry twelve years ago, it's just not enough to be the "not Trump" candidate; you have to make people want to vote "for" you as well. She just didn't possess that appeal.

Her campaign, furthermore, erred by taking her "firewall" states for granted, and as a result she lost Wisconsin, which last voted Republican in 1984, and Michigan and Pennsylvania, which last voted Republican in 1988, by slim margins. In that light, Clinton becomes the least successful Democratic nominee since Michael Dukakis. Yes, it looks like she will win the popular vote. But that's not how we elect presidents in the United States.

Anyway, it's over now. And as much as I want to hope for the best, I believe that Donald Trump is hopelessly unqualified, racist, greedy, authoritarian and mean-spirited, and that his presidency is going to have catastrophic and potentially irreparable consequences for this nation.

John Judis has what I believe is one of the better takes on why Clinton lost, why Trump won, and what the future might hold.

God bless America.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Congratulations to the Cubs

During my lifetime, I've gotten to witness:
  • The Boston Red Sox win their first World Series since 1918 (86 years), and
  • The Chicago Cubs win their first World Series since 1908 (108 years).
With that said, for some reason I am skeptical that I will live long enough to ever see the Houston Astros win a World Series.

Houston 31, Central Florida 24

It was a tale of two halves.

The Bad, Ugly First Half: Greg Ward Jr had three interceptions, fumbled once, was sacked twice in a row on one possession, and generally looked lost. The Cougar running game was completely stuffed, gaining a total of six rushing yards in the half. The Cougars also committed multiple penalties that either ended Houston drives or extended UCF drives, including a personal foul penalty on a missed UCF field goal that resulted in a first down and, a few plays later, a touchdown (the officiating of this game was rather poor and one-sided, by the way). The Golden Knights led at halftime, 21-3, and it really looked like the Cougars had once again decided to quit.

The Good, Beautiful Second Half: As the second half started, it looked like more was in store for the Coogs as Greg Ward Jr fumbled once again, this time in Houston's own 13 yard line, and the crowd (what was left of it after halftime, at least) began clamoring for backup QB Kyle Postma. The Cougar defense, however, stepped up and sacked Knight QB Mackenzie Milton to limit the damage to a field goal. The Cougars finally found the endzone on the ensuing possession, thanks in part to a 46 yard scramble by walk-on RB Dillon Birden. UCF fumbled the ball on their next possession - their first of four turnovers in the second half - and the Cougars proceeded to score again. Houston would score 28 unanswered points in the second half. The Knights, meanwhile, were held to 29 total yards in the second half, while the Houston ground game finally got it going with 152 rushing yards. For all of his struggles, Greg Ward Jr finished with 240 passing yards, one passing touchdown, and two rushing touchdowns.

What It Means: It was very heartening to see the Cougars rally in the second half when they just as easily could have quit; time will tell if the halftime of this game marked a turning point on the season. With the win, the Cougars now have seven wins and are guaranteed their fourth winning season in a row.

The banged-up Cougars get a much-needed bye week before hosting Tulane on November 12.