American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco spoke to the press before last night's Houston versus UCF game. He boasted about UH's new stadium, and the growth of the second-year conference. He noted the multiple NCAA titles gained by the conference last season, and bragged about UCF's Fiesta Bowl victory. He loved the exposure the league gained by playing on ESPN on Thursday nights. And he thought that with schools like UH and UCF, the conference was primed for the same status as one of the five power conferences.
Then they played a football game at TDECU Stadium last night. ESPN could not have been pleased to be wasting valuable primetime programming on the game won 17-12 by UCF (2-2) over UH (2-3). There was nothing compelling about the game, nothing that stood out and shouted elite. There were no jaw-dropping plays. There was just "blah" and "eh." The Cougars finished with 331 offensive yards to UCF's 228 -- UCF's starting QB was only 6 of 18 for the night, with one completion a 52-yard touchdown pass. Still, despite it all, if UH QB Greg Ward, Jr. doesn't fumble just inches short of the goal line with under a minute left in the game, the Cougars wind up winning a game they deserved very much to lose. A game that, it's very doubtful, Aresco will be using as support for a new, better TV contract with ESPN or as proof that the conference belongs in the NCAA playoff picture.
What's the game plan on offense?
The Cougars have talked in the past about how the offense adjusts to what the defense is giving it. Thus if a defense is stopping the pass, the Cougars run, and vice versa. But is that really the best way to game plan an offense? The Cougars once again came out and seemed to have no earthly clue as to what the offense was going to do from drive to drive, play to play.
The offense wasn't helped by QB John O'Korn's inaccurate passing, or the receivers dropping accurate passes. The offense shouldn't have to rely on the defense forcing turnovers that put the Cougars within scoring range. And the offense shouldn't have to rely on Greg Ward, Jr. taking over in the second half from O'Korn and finding a way to fire up the offense and actually generate some semblance of a cohesive offensive plan. It shouldn't look like the best play calls were ones designed to draw defensive penalties.
The biggest offensive misfire came in the first quarter when the Cougars used a UCF interference call to get a first and goal at the two yard line. The first play was a rush for one yard. The second down play was an incomplete pass. The third down play was a rush for no gain. And following a timeout, O'Korn threw the fade to Deontay Greenberry for the incomplete pass. Head coach Tony Levine said the fade on fourth down was the play he wanted, that it was a play the team practiced, and that UCF gave the Cougars the match-up and coverage the team wanted, but that it just didn't work.
"It should have never come down to that fourth down play," Levine said of the series of play calls that encapsulates the UH offense this season. "If we can get two yards on first down, second down, third down ... then I don't have to call a fourth down play." IS JOHN O'KORN STILL THE STARTING QB
The Cougar offense has been ineffective this season. Lots of that has been due to a porous offensive line that's offered almost no protection to O'Korn or Ward. And when he's had time, O'Korn's passes have often been off the mark, falling short of the receiver, behind the receiver, or way over the receiver's head. Last night was no different, and in the third quarter, Ward came in for a series to offer up a change of pace. A change of pace that lasted the entire night as O'Korn never came back into the game.
The offense did appear to operate more efficiently, at a quicker pace, and more effectively when Ward was the running the plays. But in the past, when asked about O'Korn's status, Levine's always stated that O'Korn's his starter and that Ward's just the change of pace QB who plays at receiver most of the time. When asked last night, his answer wasn't as definitive, and was most definitely not the endorsement that O'Korn was probably seeking.
"Any position we'll look at the video and make a determination as a staff," Levine said when asked about whether there could be a change at quarterback for next week. "Offense, defense, special teams."
Field goals don't count like they do in fantasy football
The Cougar offense last night came courtesy of kicker Kyle Bullard's foot. Bullard booted four field goals through the uprights. One was from 39 yards, another was from 42, the third was from 51 yards, and the final UH points were off a 49 yard field goal. If the game was played under fantasy football rules, Bullard would've generated 16 points; alas, the game was played under the real rules, so he and the Cougars only got 12 points.
"Kyle's doing a nice job," Levine said. "He's a kid I don't talk enough about, probably intentionally. I don't have any hesitation or reservation on sending him into the game."
So the Cougars can count on the field goal kicker and the defense to keep the team in games. At some point though, the offense is going to have to start pulling its share of the load if the team hopes to go bowling at the end of the season. And at this point, the offense doesn't appear to be capable to holding up its end of the bargain.