Maybe it was the weather outside of Reliant Stadium that had something to do with the sluggishness of Saturday's Bayou Bucket. The grayness. The wetness. The dreariness. Maybe all of that worked against a football game being played inside of a gigantic aircraft hanger before a crowd that didn't even fill half of the place.
The game was messy. The stadium was dreary. The crowd was dead. The teams were lifeless and clumsy and error-prone. The first quarter took over 50 minutes to play, yet UH was only up 7-0 on their cross-town rivals Rice. The score was 14-0 at the half, but nothing the Cougars and Owls did in the second quarter, a faster-played, quicker-paced quarter, helped off-set the yawn-fest that this game was becoming.
Then the second half arrived and Charles Sims, the man Houston head coach Tony Levine had said was the key to the Cougar offense, took off. Sims had only 32 yards on six carries at the half. By the time the third quarter was ended, Sims had gained a total of 114 yards and scored two touchdowns and the Cougars (1-3) were well on their way to a 35-14 win, their first victory of the season.
By the end of the game, Sims had a total of 158 rushing yards and a career-high three touchdowns on 24 carriers while also hauling four receptions for 47 yards. Sims' day helped out the rest of the UH offense. David Piland didn't have to throw the ball as much, and though he was far from perfect on the day -- he missed multiple receivers with throws that were short and he threw one interception -- he still completed 26 of 43 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns.
"It's great to have him back," Levine said of Sims. "It's great to have him healthy. He's a dynamic player. What we talked about this week, as an offensive staff, is he may rush for three, he may rush for two, but at some point he's going to break one and make a guy miss and take it 50 [Sims broke one for 47 yards], and I think we saw that a couple of times tonight."
The UH offense does appear to be an entirely different animal when Sims is healthy and getting the ball. The Cougars offensive coordinator "resigned" after the opening loss to Texas State after Sims barely touched the ball. The Cougars put up points against Louisiana Tech the next week with Sims touching the ball 33 times. And when Sims missed the UCLA game due to injury, the offense was beyond pathetic. When playing a team like the Owls (1-4), a team that beats itself better than any other team can beat itself, a guy like Sims who can make people miss on tackles is a huge plus because the Owls are a team that just can't make open-field tackles. And with starting quarterback Taylor McHargue missing the game because of an injury, the Owls defense was in for a long day because their offense could never push the right buttons.
"We offensively had a hard time sustaining drives, we had seven or eight plays and came away with no points and you can't do that," Owls coach David Bailiff said. "Defensively we were out there for a long time and we had way too many missed tackles."
But things aren't entirely fixed for the Cougars. Piland still had trouble hitting his receivers. The team's still incredibly sloppy on offense -- they had numerous false start penalties, and on multiple occasions, they followed one false start by immediately committing another false start.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The defense looked improved for the second game in a row, but there were a couple of times when Rice was able to break big plays =- a fourth-quarter 88-yard touchdown pass from Driphus Jackson to Sam McGuffie set a Rice record for the longest TD pass. And it would have been interesting to see what the Owls could have done against the Cougars defense during that sluggish first half if McHargue had been healthy and able to play.
Both the Cougars and Owls have winnable games this weekend -- the Cougars face North Texas while the Owls face Memphis. But both teams have flaws that must be addressed if either is going to go on a run and put together a win streak.
As for now, the Cougars once again win the Bayou Bucket and once again shut down Rice's attempt to become the top dog in the city. Let's just hope that next year's game is better than one they just played.