A win is a win is a win. That's what they always say. That it is not how they play that matters, but the final result. And luckily for the Houston Cougars (7-1, 4-0 in conference), a win is a win. Even if last night's win was an ugly 35-23 win over a bad USF Bulls (2-5, 2-2 in conference) football team that was in position to win a game it should've been blown out of. But that doesn't matter, because a win is a win is a win.
But it almost wasn't a win. And that must be considered. It must be pointed out that UH needed a phantom offensive pass interference to wipe out USF's go-ahead touchdown with just about four minutes on the clock. And it needs to be pointed out that USF started a true freshman at quarterback and that that true freshman easily guided one of the worst offenses in the American Athletic Conference up and down the field for 364 yards and 23 points.
"Not to sound like a broken record, another good win for our program," head coach Tony Levine said after the game. "The game played out just like we had talked about with our student-athletes, our staff and our coaches all week, last night in the team meeting, this morning at our meetings, before kickoff and at halftime. We knew it was going to be a 60-minute, three-and-a-half-hour battle."
But maybe that's the problem there. This game shouldn't have played out like this. Not with a team as talented on offense as the Cougars. Not with an aggressive, attacking, opportunistic defense that leads the nation in takeaways. Not when playing a team that lost games to McNeese State and Florida Atlantic -- yes, the Florida Atlantic formerly coached by this guy.
"To come away with a win -- it's not easy to win football games at any level -- so to come away with a win tonight, and for our kids to continue to grow and improve and get better on a daily basis, I'm really pleased," Levine said.
The Cougars are 7-1 on the season. And for the most part, this team has seemed far, far removed from last year's team that went 5-7 and often didn't appear to know what it was doing. This is a supremely talented team on offense led by QB John O'Korn (22 TDs on the season), who just seems to sling touchdown pass after touchdown pass, usually to receiver Deontay Greenberry, who has that Calvin Johnson-type ability to latch onto any ball he can get near while breaking tackle after tackle. When the offense fires on all calibers, it's a thing of rare beauty -- the Cougars are the only FBS to have scored points in every quarter of every game this season.
Such was the case on the team's first drive, a quick-strike three-play drive that began with O'Korn hitting Greenberry on a slant that Greenberry took down the field for 49 yards on the first play and that ended with O'Korn hitting Xavier Maxwell on a slant for six yards and the touchdown. And they ended the first quarter with a long, time-consuming drive that expertly mixed runs and passes and bled the clock. But in between there was the backfire of a drive that mixed incompletions, a short run and a sack. The Cougars soared throughout most of the first half, though, going to half with the easy 21-10 lead. But things quickly fell apart in a second half that didn't really resemble UH football. There were two turnovers, one costing UH what would surely have been at least a field goal, the other giving USF great field position. There was a stupid personal foul on running back Kenneth Farrow that stalled another drive -- a penalty for which Farrow apologized profusely after the game. The offense just never seemed to click, never seemed to find a rhythm, and the defense, which had forced turnover after turnover after turnover on the season, found itself backpedaling and surrendering big plays.
But it needs to be remembered that when it counted, when the big plays were most needed, the defense stepped up. It forced a fumble on the play after the penalty wiped out the USF touchdown, and that fumble gave the Cougar offense great field position. And the offense produced the big play after that, scoring a touchdown to make that 28-23 score a 35-23 score with 1:40 remaining on the clock.
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"We're back to 0-0, and we have a team next weekend, and we'll try to be 1-0 at the end of next week," running back Kenneth Farrow said. "And that's how we're taking it, week by week."
And to be 1-0 at the end of next week, the Cougars will need to defeat the nationally ranked UCF Knights. The Knights are a much, much better team than USF, and the Cougars will need to play much, much better football to get the win. And if the Cougars are going to have any chance of making a BCS bowl, they're going to have to get past the Knights.
So in the end, maybe a win is a win is a win after all. Because in the end, every win counts exactly the same. Especially if that final win comes in a big bowl game.