Here's a suggestion for the Houston Cougars. Don't play any more games on the road. Because when the Cougars play football games on the road, the Cougars lose, like Saturday where they went to East Carolina and lost to 48-28 to the Pirates.
Head coach Tony Levine likes to talk about wins and losses coming as part of a team effort. About how the team has to play together. The offense has to pick up the defense. The defense has to pick up the offense. The special teams have to be special. And Saturday, the team put forth a complete team effort. A team effort of suckiness.
The Cougars were down 14-0 after the first quarter. They needed a touchdown in the waning seconds of the first half to make the score a semi-respectable 21-7. They were able to get the score to within 34-21 late in the fourth quarter, but one final collapse by the defense made the score 41-21 before David Piland threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown to make it 48-21. The Cougars then scored with two seconds remaining in the game to make it, once again, look halfway respectable.
But there was nothing respectable about the Cougars' play in this game. David Piland had problems finding his receivers, finishing 22 of 55 for the game. Of course, he didn't always have a lot of time to throw the ball, and his receivers didn't always help. The UH defense several times extended ECU drives
with stupid penalties with bad play. The team never seemed to find any kind of rhythm, either offensively or defensively, and the coaching staff never seemed to figure out what ECU was going to attempt next.
"It was a game of third down," Levine said. "Offensively we couldn't sustain any drives, we couldn't move the chains, we couldn't stay on the field for third downs, especially early, and defensively, we couldn't get off the field on third down."
The biggest problem offensively seemed to be the lack of involvement of Charles Sims in the offense. Levine has said time and time again that the Cougars need to get the ball into the hands of Sims about 25-30 times a game for the team to win. And before Sims left the game with another injury late in the first half, he'd only touched the ball seven times.
Then again, the Cougars did fall behind early, and when the Cougars fell behind, the game plan appeared to be one of having Piland drop back and pass the ball time and time again. But the Cougars never seemed to give Sims a chance to establish the running game, though Levine appeared to say the running game was abandoned because it wasn't effective.
"We weren't efficient on first down," Levine said. "We got into a lot of second and longs because we weren't running the ball well enough on first down. We had some dropped passes and couldn't get into a rhythm. Then we got behind and had to play catch up. Our offense is predicated on moving the chains and getting the big strikes when they happen. We want to gain first downs and, to do that, if we get into third down, it needs to be third and short, not third and nine or 10."
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There was a play late in the third period that probably best epitomizes what the UH season has become. Piland hit Shane Ros on a screenplay that Ros took down the sideline for 55 yards. But just before he hit the end zone, he was pushed from behind. Ros attempted to dive into the end zone for the touchdown before he landed out of bounds, but he instead fumbled the football through the end zone where, instead of a UH score, the play resulted in a turnover.
And that's what this UH season seems to be. Turnover after turnover just as the team appears to be taking a step forward. The Cougars got off to a disastrous 0-3 start to the season, then evened the record at 3-3, then lost, then won, then lost on Saturday. With three games left in the season, the Cougars are 4-5.
The team's bowl hopes are still alive, and since the Cougars have two homes games left, the odds are favorable for the Cougars to hit the magical six win figure needed to make a bowl game. But since the bowl game will be on the road, the question needs to be asked, should the Cougars even bother playing if they're invited because with the way they've played on the road this season, a loss is almost surely guaranteed.
The Cougars return to action on Saturday when they host Tulsa for homecoming at 4:00 at Robertson Stadium. And if it's anything like past home games this season, then there are plenty of tickets available for purchase.