Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Houston 41, Tulsa 26

The Cougars started out slow against a Tulsa team that came ready to play and quickly fell behind, 10-0, in the first quarter. The Coogs struggled back to take the lead at halftime, only to see Tulsa score 13 unanswered points in the second half. Houston managed a fourth-quarter rally to win the game; however, it was a very ugly win, so let's start there.

The Ugly: The Cougars looked lethargic and played error-ridden football for much of the game. They turned the ball over three times, dropped numerous catchable passes (as well what would have been sure interceptions), committed 8 penalties and missed several tackle. The defense could not get off the field, as the Cougars allowed the Golden Hurricane to convert on 8 of 23 third downs and 2 of 4 fourth downs. The defense also surrendered a whopping 312 rushing yards (and 426 total yards) to Tulsa. The UH offense, meanwhile, sputtered for much of the game; of their first ten drives, seven ended either in punts or turnovers (interceptions, fumbles, or turnovers on downs). Quite simply, the Cougars were outplayed for much of this game.

The Bad: The third quarter was a microcosm of the Cougars’ night. They held the ball for only 2:58 (Tulsa had the ball for 12:02), ran only 5 plays (Tulsa ran 28), had 7 yards of offense (Tulsa had 174), and scored no points (Tulsa scored 10). Another Tulsa touchdown would have surely sealed the game for them.

The Good: The Coogs finally came to life in the fourth quarter. D'Eriq King had a 61-yard touchdown run on a well-executed play to bring the Coogs back within two. Tulsa was forced to punt on the ensuing position, and the Cougars scored a field goal on their next position to retake the lead. Then, Tulsa melted down; their next two possessions ended in turnovers on their side of the field and led to easy UH touchdowns. These quick 24 points put Tulsa away for good; Ryan Monceaux describes the sequence of events and notes that at least some of Houston's late-game heroics were due to Tulsa's errors:
Why did Tulsa go from the ground and pound offense that dominated the 3Q into a drop back team with a first-time starter in the 4th? That’s just poor play-calling and abandoning your game plan. But credit the Cougar defense for taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them: two false starts, a dinged-up running back, a forced fumble, and an INT. And the UH offense scored 24 points on just 20 plays. The three touchdown drives in the quarter totaled just 67 seconds. For 15 minutes, we finally saw what this team is capable of doing.
What It Means: I've always said that an ugly win is better than a pretty loss, and the only thing that matters is that the Cougars are 4-1 overall, are 1-0 in their division, and got revenge for their most humiliating loss last season. But that can't keep playing down to the level of their opponent and expect to escape with wins.

The Cougars now go on a two-game road trip to face East Carolina (on October 13) and Navy (on October 20). Both teams are mediocre, with 2-3 records, and the Cougars should be favorites to win both. However, as we've seen from this team so far this season, nothing is a given.

ESPN's recap of the game is here.

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