Thursday, September 07, 2023

Houston 17, Texas-San Antonio 14

The Cougars opened the season - their first in the Big 12 Conference - with a win at home against the Texas - San Antonio Roadrunners.  It was low-scoring affair; the Roadrunners pulled within three with 5:42 left in the fourth quarter but the Coogs sealed the victory with a clock-chewing, game-ending drive (that may have been aided by a favorable after-review spot from the refs). 

The Good: The UH defense intercepted veteran UTSA quarterback Frank Harris three times. Cornerback (and East Carolina transfer) Malik Fleming accounted for two of those interceptions, along with a 48-yard punt return. That return led to one of Houston's touchdowns; one of Fleming's interceptions led to the other.

Quarterback (and Texas Tech transfer) Donavan Smith was serviceable but not spectacular in his Houston debut, completing 22 or 34 passes for 233 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. However, his receivers looked good. Samuel Brown, Joseph Manjack IV and Matthew Golden combined for 16 receptions and 209 yards; Manjack and Golden both had touchdowns.

The Cougars did not turn the ball over and were only flagged for three penalties. That's right: only three penalties.

The Bad: The UH offense was plodding and predictable. The offensive line clearly struggled to establish the run game - the Cougars managed only 101 rushing yards for 2.7 yards per carry - and had problems protecting Smith as well: he was hurried on multiple occasions and sacked three times. The offense was inefficient, converting only 5 of 15 third downs and zero of 2 fourth downs. Finally, the offense struggled to score points off turnovers; the three interceptions only resulted in seven UH points. 

Post game, head coach Dana Hologrsen called the cougar offernse "a work in progress." Here's to hoping that things comes together sooner rather than later.

The Ugly: UTSA did not help themselves with stupid penalties. Late in the first half, UTSA hit Smith out of bounds to move the ball into field goal range and allow the Coogs go into the locker room with a 10-7 lead. And in the second half, the Roadrunners were flagged on a UH field goal attempt because they lined up over the long snapper. That gave the Cougars a fresh set of downs and led to their second toucchdown of the day. 

The Uniforms: Were the Oilers-inspired, Columbia blue uniforms gimmicky and polarizing among UH fans? Sure. But the players loved them, and social media ate them up. Unfortunately UH athletics missed a great marketing opportunity by not having merchandise in the colors available for sale.

What It Means: It wasn't pretty, but it was a season-opening win over a school that won eleven games last year and actually slightly favored by Vegas to win. Ryan thinks that Saturday's game was one that the Cougars would have lost in previous years. Heartland College Sports, Underdog Dynasty and PaperCity's Chris Baldwin have more.

The Cougars now make the short trip up Brays Bayou to face the Rice Owls.

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