Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Houston 31, Memphis 52

To pretty much nobody's surprise, the injury-hobbled Cougars ended the 2018 regular season with a loss at Memphis last Friday.

The Good: The Cougars actually played inspired football through much of the game. They led 21-17 at halftime and were tied with the Tigers, 31-31, at the end of the third quarter. Freshman quarterback Clayton Tune, filling in for an injured D'Eriq King, threw for three touchdowns, while defensive back Gleson Sprewell intercepted a Memphis pass and returned it for a touchdown. Ed Oliver played in the first half, his first action since the Navy game.

The Bad: Ed Oliver did not play in the second half, as apparently his knee was still an issue for him. The Cougars finally collapsed in the fourth quarter, giving up 21 unanswered points to Memphis. The Tigers' interception of Clayton Tune's pass in the endzone in the fourth quarter quashed any remaining hope for Houston. Tune himself didn't have a great day, completing only 18 of 43 pass attempts and being sacked five times.

The Ugly: 401 yards. That's how many rushing yards Memphis gained against a completely ineffective Houston defense. Six of Memphis's seven touchdowns were rushing touchdowns.

Memphis has now beaten Houston three years in a row.

What It Means: The Cougars end the regular season with a rather mediocre 8-4 record and second in the American Athletic Conference West Division. Being right never felt so lousy.

Of the Coogs' 8 wins, only one came against a team with a winning record: USF, who finished 7-5 (those five losses coming in their last five games). Tulane finished with a 6-6 record, so the Cougars can at least claim that they beat two teams that didn’t have losing records.

Of the Coogs' 4 losses, 2 were against teams with losing records: Texas Tech (5-7) and SMU (5-7).

That's pretty much the definition of mediocrity. 

Over the weekend, defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio was fired. This was a move that simply had to be made:
UH's had one of the worst defensive showings in school history, ending the regular season No. 97 in rushing defense (197.1 yards), No. 106 in scoring defense (34.4 points), No. 124 in total defense (488.5) and No. 129 – last in Football Bowl Subdivision – against the pass (291.4). 
In four losses, UH allowed an average 54.8 points. In one particularly embarrassing game, the Cougars allowed 63 points and 704 yards to Texas Tech.
Certainly, the rash of injuries suffered by the defense didn’t help. But even when the defense was healthy, it wasn't that great: the beatdown they received at the hands of Texas Tech was mostly before the injury bug hit, and even back at the very beginning of the season they gave up 27 points to a horrible Rice program that averaged only 19.9 points per game this year.

Ryan Monceaux shares his thoughts on the season-ending loss; both he and Brad Towns take stock of D'Onofrio's utter failure here. In retrospect, the Miami fans who flooded the UH message boards to warn us that his hire was a mistake were right: D'Onofrio was simply not a competent defensive coordinator and honestly never should have been hired to begin with.

The Cougars will now search for a new defensive coordinator while they wait to find out their bowl date and opponent. 


Continuing my semi-regular series of posts about last summer's European vacation...

Although Santorini was never on my "Bucket List" the way the Acropolis in Athens or the Minoan Palace in Greece were, it was on the cruise itnerary and I'm glad I finally got to see it for myself.

Santorini is essentially part of the caldera of a a volcano whose eruption about 3,600 years ago - scientists can't agree on an exact date - was one of the biggest geological events in the past 5,000 years. Today, it is one of the most scenic spots in the Mediterranean, due to its cliffside villages featuring whitewashed buildings and blue-domed of Greek Orthodox Churches. Santorini is beautiful and, like many other places in Mediterranean Europe, overrun by tourists.

Throngs of tourists explore the narrow streets of Oia. Oia is located on the northern end of Santorini.

Another view of Oia. The whitewashed homes and hotels seem to tumble down the cliffs towards Santorini's caldera.

Exploring a side passageway in Oia. Santorini's natural beauty, picturesque villages and dry, sunny climate make it a major tourist destination.

Located to the south and east of Oia is Fira, Santorini's main town and administrative center. Like Oia, its Cycladic architecture consists of the iconic whitewashed buildings and dwellings that tumble down towards the caldera.

A close-up of the cliffside of Fira, with buildings connected by a maze of pathways and stairways. These buildings actually provide more space than what's visible here, thanks to rooms and other spaces that are dug into the cliffs behind them.

Mom, dad, Corinne and I enjoy a snack with a view in Fira. Our ship, Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas, is visible in the caldera behind us.

While we were in Santorini, we also got to try the wine that is native to the island. When our visit was complete, we rode a cable car down the island's steep, volcanic cliffs - a spectacular experience in itself - from Fira to the small harbor at the edge of the caldera and tendered back to our ship.

All in all, a pleasant visit to a truly beautiful and historic bit of Greece.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Brief, belated election thoughts

The much-anticipated midterm elections were two weeks ago tonight; I haven't had the time to write about them until now (which is okay, considering how many close races there were that took a couple of weeks to call). I have a few thoughts:
  • The most surprising thing about this election was how unsurprising it turned out to be. The Democrats were overwhelmingly favored to retake control of the House of Representatives, while the Republicans were heavy favorites to retain control of the Senate. There might have a few individual races that raised eyebrows, but the overall results were accurately predicted by pollsters and pundits alike many months ago.
  • Even though they managed to retain control of the Senate (and, indeed, pad their margin by a couple of seats), this was not a good election for the Republican Party and Donald Trump. They lost the House of Representatives, which will be under Democratic control for the first time in eight years and which will spend the next two years aggressively investigating the myriad transgressions of the Trump administration. Taking back the House was the Democrats’ primary goal of the 2018 midterms, and they did it with several seats to spare (they needed to flip 23 seats for a majority; now that most of the votes have been counted, it looks like they picked up 39). Many of these flipped seats were suburban districts that were formerly reliably Republican, but which have been trending Democratic as the Republican Party, under Trump, hemorrhages college-educated white voters and is increasingly reliant on blue-collar, rural whites for its base of support. Given the nation’s evolving demographic profile, that’s probably not a recipe for long-term success.
  • Furthermore, although the Republicans picked up (barring a miracle in the upcoming Mississippi Senate run-off) two Senate seats, they really could have done even better, considering the mix of states that were in play. They weren’t able to flip seats in deep-red states such as Montana and West Virginia, nor were they able to claim Senate races in the Midwestern states that were the key to Trump’s victory in 2016: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Arizona, furthermore, elected a Democratic Senator for the first time since 1976. Even here in Texas, Beto O'Rourke lost to Ted Cruz by a mere 2.6 percentage points (Cruz won his 2012 Senate race by about 16 points).
  • Republicans also lost 7 governorships and control of six state legislative chambers, a byproduct of flipping about 350 state legislative races nationwide. Three (very red) states also voted to expand Medicaid, which is a cornerstone of Obamacare (which itself is safe from repeal for at least the next two years, by virtue of the Democrats controlling the House). To reiterate: this was not a good election for the Republican Party. 
  • Does Beto O'Rourke's close performance mean that Texas is now a purple state? I don't know if I agree with that - Republicans still won all the statewide races and maintain solid control of the legislature - but he had some coattails: two US House states, a dozen state house seats, two state senate seats and innumerable county positions flipped from red to blue. O'Rourke shifted the map in Texas; time will tell if this is a one-off blip or a sign of things to come (if it's the latter, the Republicans are in big trouble).
  • One of the House seats that flipped was my own - the 7th Congressional District - where John Culberson was booted from office by Lizzie Parnell Fletcher. I was not a fan of Culberson; aside from showing little leadership when it came to the city’s flooding uses, he was a staunch opponent of mass transit along Richmond Avenue and used federal lawmaking processes to circumvent what should have been a local process in deciding where high-capacity transit lines should go. That may change now that Fletcher will represent the district, but a lot will depend on voter approval of the long-range transit plan METRO is currently preparing. 
  • Texas might not be a swing state yet, but Harris County has become a Democratic stronghold. Democratic candidates swept all of the county races two weeks ago. One casualty of this wipeout was Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who lost his seat to a 27-year-old law school student and community activist with no political experience. I hope Lena Hidalgo is a quick learner, as it is inevitable that this county will experience another major flooding event on her watch. (One also wonders why the Harris County Democratic establishment did not anticipate the possibility of a wave election last spring and run a more qualified candidate in the primary, but that’s a discussion for a different day.) 
  • Donald Trump is still an authoritarian, a narcissist, a pathological liar, and an all-around piece of shit. Don't expect the results of this election to cause him to "change" in fact, expect him to become more aggressive and erratic now that he knows he's in trouble.
  • Midterm election results are not predictive of subsequent presidential election results - Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all suffered significant losses midway through their first terms but were easily re-elected two years later. That being said, these results do indicate that Trump's base alone cannot carry him to re-election.
I'll end that note. I really don't want to think about 2020 just yet.

Houston 48, Tulane 17

The Cougars closed out their 2018 home slate with a convincing Thursday night win over the Tulane Green Wave. However, the win was overshadowed by one player's bruised ego and another player's devastating injury.

The Good: The Green Wave had no answer for the Coogs' ground game, which gained 298 yards and three touchdowns. Patrick Carr accounted for 139 of those yards and two scores. Freshman quarterback Clayton Tune took over the offense in the second half and threw two touchdowns. The UH defense forced four Tulane turnovers and only gave up two touchdowns.

The Bad: D'Eriq King suddenly hobbled off the field late in the first half with a freak, non-contact knee injury. It turns out that he tore his meniscus. The Cougars' most explosive playmaker had surgery earlier this week and is out for the rest of the season.

The Ugly: Ed Oliver has not played in a game since being injured against Navy; he may have decided that risking further injury - and a lucrative NFL career - is not worth continuing to play for a mediocre team. He's still a presence on the sidelines, however, and last Thursday decided to stay warm by putting on a jacket intended for use only by people actually playing in the game. Coach Major Applewhite walked over to enforce team rules and take the jacket off of Oliver, and Oliver started screaming at him. The confrontation got national press, and - now that he has revealed himself to NFL scouts to be a disrespectful prima donna - his draft stock is plummeting.

What It Means: The Cougars can clinch the American West division and go to the Conference Championship Game with a win at Memphis on Black Friday. Without D'Eriq King, however, it's hard to see any of that happening (even if Ed Oliver does decide to play).

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Houston 49, Temple 59

So, another embarrassing shitshow unworthy of an extensive writeup. Suffice to say, pretty much everything went wrong for the Coogs last Saturday, including:
  • A blocked punt early in the game that led to a quick Temple touchdown
  • Temple converting a fake punt on fourth down, which eventually led to a touchdown
  • A stupid personal foul penalty by the defense on fourth down that gave Temple new life and led to a touchdown (this same player, defensive lineman Payton Turner, would be ejected after second stupid personal foul penalty in the second half) 
  • 12 penalties overall on Houston, many of which were drive-killers
  • 210 yards and six touchdowns surrendered to Temple RB Ryquell Armstead by an inept, ineffective UH defense (the Owls gained 537 total yards on the evening)
  • 4 three-and-outs by the UH offense 
  • Three turnovers (two sack fumbles and an interception) by Houston QB D'Eriq King
There were some bright spots for the Coogs - special teams forced a fumble and recovered an onside kick, D'Eriq King passed for 322 yards and 5 touchdowns and ran for another 125 yards and a TD - but the end result as Houston's second loss in a row.

The Cougars were suffering from injuries, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, but there's really no excuse for the lack of preparation, the lack of adjustments on defense, the poor tackling, the penalties. That's on the coaches. Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio is clearly incompetent - he was a disaster at Miami and never should have been hired by UH to begin with - and should be fired when the season is over. Major Applewhite's job is probably safe for now, but results like last Saturday's do not reflect well on him or his abilities.

Next up for Houston is a Thursday night game against Tulane. This is probably the Coogs' last realistic chance at a win this season.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Name that Kroger, again

The Chronicle, ever in need of clickbait, recently put up a slideshow revisiting a topic both the Houston Press and myself had considered several years ago:
Believe it or not Houston-area Kroger locations have special nicknames.
This phenomenon has been covered in the past but this week's talk about Houston-area grocery store history brought it back out.
Most every Kroger in the area has an additional moniker, a playful name developed by shoppers that describes its place in the local fabric and its basic clientele. There is a Hot Mom and Hot Dad Kroger, known by younger shoppers for its handsome customers.
Disco Kroger, in Montrose, is named as such for its soundtrack and attitude near some of the area's most popular clubs and bars. Just two miles north sits another Kroger, dubbed "Bro-ger" by some for its male post-collegiate shoppers. It can also be referred to as Party Kroger for the run on party supplies most every weekend.
The list includes other obvious ones, such as Combat Kroger on Polk, Zombie Kroger in the Heights, and Hot Mom/Hollywood Kroger on West Gray. But a few of the names in this slideshow are rather dubious, in that they were probably just made up in the newsroom.

For example, I have heard of the Kroger I normally shop at (at least, whenever the parking lot at the HEB across the street is too crowded) at the corner of Buffalo Speedway and Westpark referred to as "Buffalo Kroger," "West University Kroger," and "Spanish Kroger" (referring to the faux-colonial architecture of the shopping center in which it resides). But before I read this article I never heard anybody refer to it as "Blue Hair Battle Zone Kroger."

Which is funny, but perhaps a bit too much to get off the tongue when the point of these local Kroger nicknames is to be pithy.

#17 Houston 31, SMU 45

I'm not going to spend a lot of time writing about this pathetic performance. It seems that the Cougars are due for at least one of these head-scratching let-down games against inferior opponents (colloquially known among the UH faithful as "Coog Its") at least once every season, and it's nothing short of maddening.

The Good: Cougar defensive back Gleson Sprewell returned a fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter to cut SMU's lead to 3. That should have been the spark that got the Coogs back into the game. Alas, it wasn't.

The Bad: Everything else. The Cougars started out slow and quickly fell into a 17-point hole. Unlike their previous slow starts (i.e. against Rice, Tulsa, and Navy), they simply weren't able to rally back to win. The defense made SMU quarterback Ben Hicks look like a Heisman contender, allowing him to complete 28 of 43 pass attempts for 318 yards and 4 touchdowns. They also allowed the Mustangs to pound out another 196 yards on the ground; it didn't help that Ed Oliver was still out with a knee injury. The offense, meanwhile, was completely befuddled by something called a Tampa 2 defense; the Coogs stubbornly tried to run the ball - D'Eriq King only completed 11 of 22 pass attempts for 175 yards - to little avail; the Cougars were held to their lowest offensive point total of the season.

The Ugly: Everything about this game was ugly, and everybody, from Coach Applewhite to the rest of his staff on down to the players, should be embarrassed and ashamed of themselves.

What It Means: the Cougars can kiss their top-25 ranking, and any pretense of contending for a New Years Six Bowl, goodbye. They still lead the American West, but are no longer in control of their own destiny.

Houston hosts the Temple Owls at TDECU on Saturday evening.