The Houston Cougars got the 35-34 win over the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs on Saturday night. They had to come from behind to do so, battling back from a 20-point third quarter deficit and scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter. And despite failing to play a complete game for the third week in a row, the Cougars are 3-0 on the season and should be 4-0 when conference play starts.
But if anybody is pleased with the play of the Cougars so far this season, then that person needs to take off their Cougar-red shaded glasses because despite the record, despite the gaudy-looking offensive numbers, this is not a very good team. And it's definitely not a team that should be in the discussion as a BCS-bowl buster. Not when the team struggles to defeat lower-tier teams in minor conferences -- or in the case of UCLA, an awful team in a good conference.
Some might think that's a bit harsh. But the thinking would be wrong. The Cougars have yet to play a complete game this season, and could have easily lost two of the three games. They've had trouble stopping the running game, and with tackling in general. The offense has had trouble staying in rhythm, and the offensive line has appeared to struggle with protecting Case Keenum at times.
UH was down 27-7 in the third quarter on Saturday night to a Louisiana Tech team led by a freshman quarterback who's not yet even old enough to vote, and he made the defense look bad. And for the second week in a row, the team just didn't appear to be prepared to start the game, having to depend once again, as they have so often in the past several years, on a Keenum-led comeback for victory.
During last week's media day, head coach Kevin Sumlin spoke of how he was dissatisfied with the team's first half against North Texas, about how he didn't want another season where he had to depend on rousing first-half speeches to get his team going in the second half, and how after the North Texas game, perhaps he and the coaching staff needed to rethink how they prep the team for the road games. After Saturday, it appears that Sumlin still has some rethinking to do.
"They confused us a little early; they had a good game plan," he said after the game. "They are a well-coached team; I said that coming in. They had the energy of the crowd and pulled out all the stops...can't tell you how proud I am of our coaches and team for not panicking and communicating the adjustments at half time."
Why should the coaches and players have panicked at the half? That's become the modus operandi for the Houston Cougars for the past half-decade or so, and it appears to be something the staff can't fix. When Case Keenum is the quarterback, it's not that huge of a problem because Keenum seems to have developed that Joe Montana-esque ability to lead teams on huge comebacks. But what happens next year to this team when Keenum's not available? Will the Cougars then be looking at a repeat of last season?
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It's not all negative for the Cougars. The team is a perfect 3-0 on the season. Patrick Edwards solidified his NFL credentials with a game-winning catch at the back of the end zone that was one of the top plays of the college football weekend. Marcus McGraw and Sammy Brown once again bailed out their defensive teammates, making stops and tackles across the field. Michael Hayes had another highlight reel run off a Keenum pass for a touchdown. The defense actually found a way to make some tackles and stop the Louisiana Tech running game late in the game, when it really counted. And the Cougars beat a team they're supposed to beat. Maybe not as easily as they should have, but still, a win's a win. And this week's opponent is Georgia State, a school that didn't even have a football team two years ago, so the Cougars should be able to easily win this one to go 4-0 heading into C-USA play.
The Houston Cougars are doing what they're supposed to be doing. They're winning games. But for a team that wants to be taken seriously in the national conversation, for a school that is seemingly aiming to find a way into a new, better, improved conference affiliation, it's got to start doing more than just winning games.
The Cougars can get away with playing one quarter of football as long as Case Keenum's around. They can get away with lousy preparation and lousy tackling as long as the out-of-conference competition consists of clearly inferior teams and as long as the likes of the Tulane and UAB are their C-USA competition. But if they ever hope to compete with the big boys on a consistent basis, then they're going to have to find a way to fix all of these problems with which they've been dealing.
Until then, the Cougars need to take baby steps. Like not falling behind by 20 points in the third quarter.