Stop me if this sounds familiar. The heavily favored Houston Cougars open up the season at home against a team from Central Texas. But instead of winning the game by double digits, the Cougars are upset by double digits. Just replace Texas State with UTSA and make the final score 27-7. But there's one major difference because this time, the Cougars were opening up their brand-spanking-new pleasure palace, TDECU Stadium, before a record on-campus crowd of 40,795. It was a bad loss, a horrible start to a new season, and one that feels all too familiar under the Tony Levine regime.
Let's take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from Friday night's debacle.
TDECU Stadium is a huge upgrade over the building it replaced. It's modern, utilitarian. There's lots and lots of gray and concrete with a beautiful video board and huge, wide concourses giving plenty of room for the fans to move about. The sight lines are fantastic. There's a great view of the downtown skyline, and during the late part of the game, fans in certain sections had great views of the Friday Night Fireworks show over Minute Maid Park. The great Bob Ford is the public address announcer. It's a big-time college football stadium.
The Cougars defense surrendered only 263 total yards to a UTSA offensive unit that started eight seniors. The Roadrunners scored 27 points, but it could have been much, much worse but for the outstanding effort of the defensive unit, stifling UTSA drive after UTSA drive. While it was an embarrassing loss for the Cougars, it needs to be noted that UTSA is not Texas State. UTSA is not a first-year FBS program, and the Roadrunners won seven games in C-USA last season. And most important of all, the Cougars were not shut out.
UTSA was five-for-five in the red zone. Of course, one UTSA drive started at the UH three yard line and another started at the UH two yard line. While the score was a seemingly insurmountable 14-0 at the half, the Cougars still had a hypothetical chance at staging a comeback. Until UTSA opened up the second half by going 60 yards on 16 plays in 6:57, shoving the ball down the throat of the UH defense, to take the 21-0 lead.
Then again, no football team is going to win a game when it turns the ball over six times. That includes four John O'Korn interceptions and two fumbles, one involving a snap that O'Korn couldn't handle. The offensive netted a total of 208 yards on 73 plays. It never found any type of rhythm as a senior-laden UTSA defensive unit treated the UH offensive line like the Germans treated the Maginot Line. The Cougars came within 1:03 of being shut-out for the first time since a September 23, 2000 48-0 loss to Texas in Austin. That UH scoring drive was led by backup QB Billy Cosh who went four-for-seven as he drove the Cougars 70 yards in three minutes. Ryan Jackson scored on a rush from the three yard line. That was Jackson's sixth rush on a night when he finished with 14 rushing yards.
"I give UTSA credit," UH head coach Tony Levine said. "They outcoached us, they outplayed us, they out-executed us and we have some work to do."
It can't get any uglier than the Cougars being double-digit favorites to win, then losing by a 27-7 score. It can't get any uglier than coming within 1:03 of being shut out by a team it was supposed to defeat by double digits. It can't get uglier than that one touchdown coming about partly because UTSA's secondary on that drive consisted of at least three freshman getting their first ever NCAA game action. Then again, it can't get uglier than finishing with -26 yards rushing yards. Or the six damn turnovers. Or an outmatched offensive line that revolved in place more than a windmill. Or the very basic fact that four years ago, UTSA football didn't even exist as this is just the school's fourth season of college football.
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"It's amazing where we are," UTSA head coach Larry Coker said. "Three years ago, we barely had a team and we started out with three coaches. Now we're in the fourth season playing in Division 1 Football against a team like Houston at home and winning. Even last year, with wins over North Texas and Tulane, so I ask you, is this our biggest win so far: I think it is. There's more big ones to come, hopefully."
The UH offense seemingly had no game plan, and it showed no ability to make the necessary in-game adjustments when the running game was stuffed over and over again. Sophomore QB John O'Korn played like a high school freshman forced into the NCAA Title Game, going 21-for-43 with four interceptions and 204 yards before begin replaced for the team's last offensive drive. There were constant communication problems with numerous botched snaps.
"I think a number of things attributed to [the offensive issues]," Levine said. "The turnovers were big, I felt that their defensive line and defense deserve a lot of credit, they controlled the line of scrimmage, and they took away our running game. We were playing from behind pretty early in the game, and we became one-dimensional, never got into a rhythm, and I think there's no more to be said about that."
The Cougars have a week to correct things before hosting Grambling State at 7:00 on Saturday. Tony Levine reiterated post-game that John O'Korn was still his quarterback, but he wouldn't commit to much else. So show up on Saturday and let's see what changes, if any, have been made.