One of the most memorable images for any Houston Oilers fan is of Buddy Ryan throwing a punch at Kevin Gilbride on the sidelines of a Sunday night football game. Ryan, the Oilers defensive coordinator, had been critical of offensive coordinator Gilbride's playcalling the entire season, and as the halftime of the regular season's final game approached, the Oilers were subject to another inept offensive series. And Ryan snapped and decided to let his feelings be known.
Anyone who watched Thursday night's UH/UTEP game has to be wondering if the co-offensive coordinators for the Cougars, Jason Phillips and Kliff Kingsbury, have ever had similar thoughts when it comes to defensive coordinator Brian Stewart. Sure, the Cougars got the 49-42 win to go 5-0 on the season. But once again, the defensive performance was shameful as once again, a poor offensive team went up and down the field, seemingly at will, on the UH defense.
Senior running back Joe Banyard torched the UH defense for 229 rushing yards. And that number is made more exceptional by Banyard having gained only a total of 157 yards in UTEP's previous four games. And junior quarterback Nick Lamaison, who hadn't even played in UTEP's last two games, threw for 267 yards and two TDs. And if he makes a better throw on the game's final play, then the game goes to overtime because he had an open receiver in the end zone.
It feels strange complaining about a team that's 5-0. But the Cougars have struggled in all but one game, and that one game was against a FCS school in only its second year of competition. There's the team's seeming inability to prep for road game -- something which UTEP coach Mike Price noted last week and something which UH coach Kevin Sumlin has acknowledged in the past and vowed to fix. The defense once again proved prone to surrendering big plays, and once again had problems with that whole tackling thing. And after the UTEP game, the question is the same as it has been this entire season: just what happens to the Cougars if they ever play a good team?
The Cougars should easily go 6-0 this week as they face the 1-3 East Carolina Pirates. The Pirates haven't looked like a good football this season, so the Cougars shouldn't have any problems. Then again, nobody the Cougars have played this season has been very good, and the Cougars have done nothing but struggle. So the question will be which ECU offensive player becomes a legend this weekend because of the Cougar defense?
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The 1-3 Rice Owls can only wish they had the same problems as the Cougars. The Owls speak of the only team that can beat the Owls is the Owls. And there is some truth to that statement. All three Rice losses have been to rather good schools -- Texas, Baylor, and Southern Miss -- but for the most part, the Owls have been competitive for at least a half before self-destructing.
The self-destruction comes in many forms. The defense gives up a big play, misses a tackle, makes a really stupid penalty. The offense makes a bad penalty, drops a pass, fumbles after a long run, misses the open receiver and throws an interception. And just like that, a team that had been in a game -- they were even leading Southern Miss in the third quarter on Saturday before losing 48-24 -- loses.
The Owls, however, should go to 2-3 for the season this weekend when they face 1-4 Memphis on Saturday. Unlike Rice, Memphis hasn't lost to any good teams, instead losing to the kind of teams that UH has stocked its schedule with this season. So the Owls shouldn't have to worry about stupid mistakes costing them a game this time out as they're playing a team that should be almost impossible to lose to. Even the Owls who are becoming known for self-destructing.
There won't be any punches on either the UH or Rice sidelines. There just don't appear to be any Buddy Ryan-types on either coaching staff. But if the UH defense keeps imploding like it's been imploding, or if the Rice team just continues making mistake after mistake after mistake, then one can't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, some coach on one of the teams is contemplating going Buddy Ryan on the sidelines.