Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Cougars embarrass themselves in Armed Forces Bowl, 14-70

Honestly, it would have been better if they had just declined this bowl invitation.
Army's relentless triple-option attack produced bowl records with 507 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns to send the Cougars to an embarrassing 70-14 loss in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium. 
The 56-point loss matched the worst in NCAA bowl history, breaking the previous record set by Tulsa in a 63-7 win over Bowling Green in the 2008 GMAC Bowl. 
Army also scored the most points ever against the Cougars in a bowl game, surpassing the previous mark by Hawaii in a 54-48 triple-overtime win in the 2003 Hawaii Bowl. 
Army, which completed the first 11-win season in program history, finished with 507 rushing yards against a banged-up UH defense that was without three injured players on the line and All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who skipped the game to focus on the NFL Draft.
Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins, Jr. accounted for five of Army's touchdowns, including a 77-yard run in the first quarter. The Black Knights only passed the ball four times (all of which were completions) and never punted; they scored on all of their possessions except one which ended in a turnover. When Army’s offense wasn’t running the ball down the Houston defense’s throat, they were sacking UH’s hapless backup quarterback, Clayton Tune. Tune was sacked ten times - an Army record (they’ve playing football since 1890, by the way) - and one sack resulted in a fumble that was returned by the Army defense for a touchdown. 

Yes, there have been injuries. The Cougars were playing without their entire starting defensive line or explosive quarterback D’Eriq King. And yes, this season's defense has been statistically the worst in program history. But injuries and a crappy defense cannot by themselves account for the sloppy, unmotivated performance that resulted in a service academy hanging 70 points on the Cougars as well as the Cougars producing what was by far their worst offensive output of the season. The coaches didn't have their heads in this game, either, as was evidenced by head coach Major Applewhite’s decision to punt from Army’s 30 yard line in the third quarter.

Nobody, from coaches to players, was interested in playing this game. The Cougars would have done better to have stayed home and forfeited than to have embarrassed themselves, their fans and their school with such a pathetic, gutless performance. 

Houston has now lost three bowl games in a row, by a combined score of 57-137. A 2018 season that at one time held promise - the Cougars were 7-1 and ranked in the top 25 after defeating South Florida - ended with a whimper, as the team lost four out of its last five games, culminating in the worst postseason loss in program history.

The University of Houston football program enters the offseason with a dark cloud hanging above it. Offensive coordinator Kendall Briles is leaving after only one season to take the same job at Florida State*, meaning that now Applewhite must fill both coordinator positions. If Twitter and message boards are any indications, the UH fanbase has lost faith in Applewhite, and don't see any upside to a third season with him at the helm. Next year's team is losing eight starters on defense, most notably Ed Oliver. The 2019 schedule features opponents such as Oklahoma, Washington State, North Texas, Central Florida and Cincinnati (along with Tulsa and SMU teams the Cougars consistently struggle against and a Memphis team they haven't beaten in three seasons).

In the wake of the embarrassing loss, and no doubt aware of the fact that season ticket renewals for the 2019 season will certainly plummet as fans lose interest in the program, UH president Dr. Renu Khator has said that the school will "review and evaluate" the football program. However, it is unlikely that Applewhite will be fired, because of the large buyout his contract entitles him to and also because this program has traditionally given coaches at least three years to prove themselves (even when it was pretty clear that they probably weren't going to be able to get the job done, as was the case for Dana Dimel and Tony Levine).

I like Major Applewhite and I want him to succeed. But, at this point, I'm feeling no optimism about the 2019 season. Last weekend's embarrassing bowl blowout was a real gut punch, and I'm sure I'm not the only UH football fan who feels this way. 

*For what it's worth, I think Briles is somewhat overrated. Yes, the offense was better than last year, but a lot of that had to do with the athleticism of D'Eriq King. Besides, if Briles gets credit for the offense when it was good, then he also must take the blame for its piss-poor performances against SMU and Army.

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