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Cougars Looking for Clues But Finding None

University of Houston offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt "resigned" last Monday morning, just a little more than a day after the Cougars' embarrassing 30-13 opening game defeat to Texas State. Thus it stands to reason that, sometime this morning, the Houston Cougars will be holding a press conference to announce the "resignations" of the entire defensive coaching staff.

Things are getting ugly down at Robertson Stadium. Ugly as in losing the second game of the season 56-49 to Louisiana Tech. Ugly as in the fans quickly falling off the bandwagon and the game not selling out. Ugly as in the Cougars needing to score 22 fourth-quarter garbage-time points to make the game even appear competitive.

"I told the team that no side of the football -- offense, defense or special teams -- should leave here feeling good or satisfied about what just happened," head coach Tony Levine said. "No individual that played tonight should leave here feeling good about their individual performance. Football is the ultimate team sport, and we lost the football game."

The Cougars did appear to make some improvements from week one to week two. They actually put some points on the board this week. The new offensive coordinator, Travis Bush, paid attention to Levine's statements last week and made sure that running back Charles Simms got the football. And quarterback David Piland set a UH single-game record for passes attempted (77), an NCAA single-game record for passes attempted without an interception, and a Robertson Stadium record for single-game passing yardage (580).

But that's about it for the positives. The defense put the Cougars immediately in the hole as the Cougars quickly fell behind by the score of 21-6. But the Cougars got the score to 21-20 at the half, and it appeared that things might go a little differently this time out. Then the second half started and the defense did what it does best: Players missed tackle after tackle, made stupid penalty after stupid penalty and generally just let the Bulldogs do whatever it was that they wanted.

The offense didn't help the defense. Piland didn't throw any interceptions, and he appeared to be much more comfortable in the offense this week, but he still had trouble hitting his receivers. And while it was nice to see Sims become a focal point of the offense, it didn't help that Sims couldn't hold onto the football -- though to be fair to Sims, he wasn't the only Cougar offensive player that had problems with holding onto the football.

"What happened tonight offensively is correctable," Levine said. "What we talked about this week with our players in terms of holding on to the ball offensively and creating turnovers defensively, tackling defensively and executing is how we win football games. We didn't tackle well enough defensively to win tonight. We didn't create turnovers. When you tackle, you eliminate the big plays, and that's something we will work on this week."

 

This whole tackling thing is a problem the Cougars have had through the past several coaching regimes. Levine seems to think it's an easily correctable problem. And who knows, perhaps it is, but then one wonders why, if it's such a damn easy problem to fix, Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin couldn't fix the issue.

But the biggest problem is just the general sloppiness of the team. There's Charles Sims cutting across the backfield just as Piland's handing the ball to another running back, causing a collision. There's Phillip Steward body-slamming the opposing quarterback as he runs out of bounds. There's Richie Leone executing a fantastic punt, pinning Louisiana Tech at their one yard line, only to have the Bulldogs score a touchdown four plays later because the defense can't make a tackle.

And if you're a Cougar fan, which by the end of Saturday's loss there didn't appear to be too many of, you have to be worried about this week's tilt against UCLA in the Rose Bowl. The Bruins embarrassed the Cougars two years ago, and they appear primed to destroy the Cougars this week. The Cougar defense was demolished by the opposing team's running game again, and anybody who has seen UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin run like a tank through the defenses of Rice and Nebraska the past two weeks can't help but envision the carnage he'll leave behind when he's done with the Cougars.

Tony Levine thinks the Cougars' problems are easily correctable. And perhaps they are. But if the Cougars are 0-3 after this Saturday, then the story might not be about the "resignation" of a coordinator. The story may instead become about a team and coaching staff in way over their heads. And that's not a story anyone wants to write.

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