It wasn't easy. It wasn't pretty. But the Houston Cougars defeated the Temple Owls 22-13 Saturday afternoon to go 2-0 on the season. They overcame a 13-9 halftime deficit and scored a touchdown at the end of the game to put away the win. The positives were easy to see: the offense has discovered the importance of a good running game; the defense put together another good game; John O'Korn continued to dispel any notions that he shouldn't be the team's quarterback.
There were issues, though. Lots of issues. The offense reached the red zone eight times, getting only four field goals and one touchdown as a result. David Piland looked like the David Piland of last season. Penalties cost the team a touchdown and one defensive player was ejected for targeting.
But the team won. The Cougars will now go down in the record books as the victor of the first ever conference game of the American Athletic Conference. And after last season's 0-3 UH start, no win is too ugly.
The offense continued to churn up the yards on the field, this time gaining a total of 524 yards with 219 of those yards coming from the running game. Running back Ryan Jackson proved that last week was no fluke. He rushed 22 times for 109 yards and scored the team's lone touchdown. Kenneth Farrow rushed for 78 yards before suffering an injury in the first half - he was wearing a walking book as the game ended.
Freshman John O'Korn replaced the struggling David Piland at the start of the second period. O'Korn threw the ball 31 times, connecting on 23 of the attempts, for 233 yards. The offense was efficient under O'Korn, moving up and down the field seemingly with ease - until reaching the red zone. He really seemed to be clicking with the receivers, and he played with a poise that makes him seem more than just a freshman.
It was another strong game for a defensive unit which is looking much improved from last season's unit, and which seems to be really responding to new defensive coordinator David Gibbs. They gave up 13 first half points, but throttled Temple for the rest of the game. Temple amassed only 300 yards on offense and never really got into a rhythm in the second half. The defense forced three turnovers. The defense has surrendered just 26 points in these first two games, which is the fewest points allowed by a UH defense in the first two games to open a season since 1989.
Kicker/punter Richie Leone was the conference's special teams player of the week after the Southern game. He should be in line for that award again, seeing as how he was responsible for 16 of Houston's 22 points, going five for six in field goal attempts and making his lone PAT attempt. THE BAD
Head coach Tony Levine stated last week that he wasn't happy with the team's penalties in the game against Southern, primarily because the team lost lots of big gains on offense. He's probably not going to be happy this week either. The team committed eight penalties for 77 yards, which was an improvement over the Southern game. But a Ryan Jackson touchdown was called back due to a holding penalty, and linebacker Steve Taylor was lost for most of the game after being ejected over a targeting penalty.
Redshirt junior David Piland once again started the game at quarterback. Levine had said earlier last week that he would probably play both Piland and O'Korn. But he couldn't have been happy with the play of Piland. The offense looked tentative under Piland, and his passes often fell short of his receivers, or were behind them. He was only 6x17 for 72 yards, and he was replaced by O'Korn to start the second quarter. Levine said after the game that Piland suffered an unspecified injury during the game, but with O'Korn's play, it's hard to believe that a healthy Piland would have returned to the game.
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The Cougars accumulated 524 yards on offense. The running game did just about whatever it wanted, and the passing game looked really good once O'Korn settled in under center. But then the team reached the red zone, and then the offense suddenly became as incompetent as the Texans offense was during the David Carr era.
The Cougars won the game, but they had to depend on kicker Leone for points, and despite their apparent superiority on the field, they were never able to put the game away. The defense got a turnover deep in Temple territory late in the fourth quarter, and Ryan Jackson made sure to get the ball in the end zone, but until that moment, Temple was just one lucky play from winning the game.
The team's got a week off before facing Rice. The team's got a lot of good going for it, and it just appears to be working with a different vibe, different attitude than last year's Cougars. The problems with penalties and the red zone are fixable. It's fun watching the UH running game, and John O'Korn just looks like he was born to be a starting NCAA quarterback.