When does a 45-35 win over a conference foe not feel like a win? The Houston Cougars weren't too happy about their 45-35 win over UTEP on Saturday night. The fans weren't too happy either. So the Cougars might now be 4-4 on the season. Their bowl hopes are still viable. But getting the win just didn't feel like a win.
The Cougars were up 45-7 early in the third quarter. They seemingly had the game under control. But Charles Sims left the game not long after scoring his third touchdown of the day. And from that point on, things started to fall apart. UTEP scored the next 28 points, most of those behind the team's third string quarterback, red shirt freshman Blair Sullivan.
Head coach Tony Levine didn't want to take Sims out of the game. But Sims injured a leg in the third quarter, and the advice of the medical staff was to take him out of the game. Which Levine did. Only the rest of the team seemed to see Sims coming out equaling the Cougars having the win in hand.
"We came out in the second half and scored 10 points quickly, then Charles Sims came out of the game," Levine said. "Some of our players may have thought I pulled him out of the game because it was out of reach for UTEP, but that was not the case."
The offense, which had had its struggles even while Sims was in the game, seemed to fall apart.. Piland couldn't complete passes. The other running backs couldn't gain yards. And late in the fourth quarter, what few of the 27,433 fans remained in attendance were booing loudly anytime the punt team trotted onto the field.
"It was a good win, but not pretty throughout," Levine said. "I liked how we came out and started the second half. We talked all week about starting fast and our kids did that. They were ready to play, had great energy and enthusiasm, and executed well early on. We have to get much better at finishing games."
The Cougars problems consisted of more than just a failure to close out the game. The problems with the special teams continued, and it appeared at times as if Jacoby Jones was coaching the punt returners on fielding the football. The defense continued to have problems stopping the running game (they surrendered 193 rushing yards), and David Piland was only able to complete 16 of his 30 passes for 174 yards, and he was very lucky to not have had several of his passes intercepted.
Not all was bad. The Cougars did get the win. Cornerback D.J. Hayden returned an interception for a touchdown, the second straight game he's done that this year, and this return was for 97 yards. The Cougar defense forced six turnovers, and Phillip Steward was seemingly in the UTEP backfield on every play. And the Cougars won the game.
But that's not what the fans will remember. The fans will remember the Cougars had a 45-7 lead and nearly lost the game. The Cougar fans will remember David Piland's inability to hit a receiver at the end of the game and the Cougars inability to take time off of the clock while they were on offense.
"We need to finish games, but having the cushions turns into a lot of fun," Piland said. "You have a little breathing room and I guess we needed to take a better advantage of that and kill the will for them to win there in the third quarter. We're definitely going to have a lot of talks about it, I'm sure. Definitely have to look into it and focus on that as an offense on finishing drives. That will definitely be a focal point for this week."
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The Cougars face the 5-4 East Carolina Pirates on Saturday. It's a game the Cougars should win. Just like the game against SMU was a game the Cougars should have won. And just like the game against Texas State was a game the Cougars should have won. But there is no such thing as a sure win for the Cougars, not when they can't field punts. Not when they can't complete passes. Not when they can't finish games, or make tackles.
All that matters now is that the Cougars defeated the UTEP Miners. It wasn't pretty. It was closer than it should have been. And nobody really seemed too happy about the win. But a win is a win, and after the way the season started, any win should be celebrated. Even those wins they keep trying to give away.
Tony Levine announced after the game that wide receiver Dewayne Peace has been indefinitely suspended for two unspecified violations of team rules....Senior kicker Matt Hogan now holds the C-USA record for total career points with 373. The previous record holder was Stephen Gostkowski, now the kicker for the New England Patriots.