The Houston Cougars (3-1) defeated Temple (2-3) 20-13 on Saturday afternoon. It was a pretty ugly win for the Cougars, one made even uglier by the fact that the team’s best player, Ed Oliver, injured his knee in the first half and missed most of the game. But after last week’s loss to Texas Tech, any win is a desired result.
Head coach Major Applewhite made a major move before the game, replacing Kyle Allen, the starting quarterback for the season’s first three games, with Kyle Postma. The results really weren’t that much different. The offense generated only 388 total yards, with Postma hitting 25 of 36 passes for 226 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception while being the team’s leading rusher, running 15 times for 81 yards.
But the big news of the day, perhaps eclipsing the win, was Oliver's injury. He’ll be undergoing an MRI to determine what the extent of any damage might be, so for now it's hard to know how much time he'll have to miss, if any. Oliver is the heart of the defense. He’s able to beat multiple blockers and make tackles in the backfield. He can run down quarterbacks and running backs who look as if they’re about to break runs for big gains. He’s also shown a tremendous ability to block passes.
UH kept Temple bottled up for the first half, holding the Owls scoreless. But after the Cougars took the 20-0 lead early in the third quarter, the Temple offense found a way to squeeze out 13 points. Temple also had several opportunities late to tie the game, but as with Arizona in the opening game, general offensive incompetence aided UH.
The Cougar offense has struggled to execute plays throughout the season, which was one of the reasons Applewhite replaced Allen with Postma. Postma was able to lead the offense to 14 points in the fourth quarter in last week’s loss to Texas Tech, this coming after the Red Raiders had shut down the Allen-led offense for most of the game. But the offense on Saturday against Temple looked much like the offense did under Allen against Texas Tech, and for what it’s worth, like it looked in the opening week game against Arizona.
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The running game, aside from Postma, struggled to gain yards. The passing offense didn’t really appear much different from how it operated under Allen. And as in the game against Arizona, this was one that the Cougars could easily have lost, though it’s really hard to blame the impact of Hurricane Harvey for the team’s performance in this game.
It’s obvious by now that this is not the Cougars team of Tom Herman. The offense is nowhere as dynamic. Maybe it’s just a matter of Herman and Applewhite having different philosophies. Maybe it’s a matter of personnel. Maybe it’s just that Greg Ward Jr. was really that dynamic of a player. Whatever is going on, this team is still struggling to find its identity.
It was only the Rice game, which the Cougars won 38-3, in which UH has appeared to not struggle in any aspect of the game. But aside from the Cougars' defeat of UTEP, Rice has been an otherwise poor team. So while Cougars fans can take solace in that game, knowing that the UH offense can put up yards and points against below-average competition but continues to struggle against merely average competition has to be worrying.
The Cougars host a surprising 4-1 SMU team on Saturday night. Surprising in that SMU has been able to win four games and is nearly bowl eligible, but not surprising in that SMU has beaten up a bunch of bad teams (North Texas and Arkansas State) while putting up lots of points and losing badly to the only decent team it has faced (a 56-36 loss to TCU). In years past, the SMU game would be a pretty easy win for the Cougars, but given the state of the team right now, perhaps without their best player, the Cougars may find this a difficult game to win.