The Houston Cougars did what they were supposed to do on Saturday night. They stormed into the Liberty Bowl and dominated the Memphis Tigers, easily winning the game 56-17 to go to 5-3 on the season.
How easy was the win? So easy that the Cougars didn't need to rely on Bryce Beall, who left the game early in the first quarter with a knee injury. So easy that quarterback David Piland was pulled in the third quarter after having thrown five touchdowns so as to prevent injury chances. So easy that the Cougars never had to attempt a punt or a field goal.
Yes, the game was that easy.
The Tigers scored to start the game, taking the 3-0 lead early in the first quarter. That was the last time that the football game was competitive as the Cougars then proceeded to score on their first seven possessions. The Cougars scored in just about every conceivable fashion. If Piland wasn't hitting Patrick Edwards for a bomb, then Michael Hayes was running it in. And if Edwards wasn't scoring on a pass from Piland, then he was scoring on a 74-yard punt return.
"I thought our plans in all three phases were really good," head coach Kevin Sumlin told sideline reporter Chuck Brown after the game. "We're playing a little bit better. We're improving, and this time of year, that's important, based on where we were four weeks ago."
After giving up the opening field goal, The Cougar defense didn't allow the Tigers (1-7 on the season and 0-5 in C-USA) to score until the fourth quarter, when a defense consisting of mainly bench guys finally let the Tiger offense generate some offense. But by that point, it was way, way too late for the Memphis points to endanger the final outcome.
"So we did a job good, defensively, adjusting," Sumlin said. "It was sloppy at the end. We had a bunch guys in there who hadn't played a bunch, which gave up some yards and some points. But the first [team] defense, I thought, I had a really good effort."
Piland, the subject of some unjustified and unwarranted fan criticism after losses to Mississippi State and Rice, put together another fantastic game. He was 20-for-23 while throwing for 292 yards and tossing five touchdown passes. He hit short passes, he hit medium routes, and he hit the bomb. But the key for Piland, once again, was that his offensive line kept the Memphis defense from rushing him, and, once again, his receivers held on to balls that were thrown at them.
Then there was Hayes, who found himself getting a majority of the play at running back after Beall's injury. Hayes just rushed for 123 yards on 20 attempts, averaging 6.2 yards a rush. He scored twice, on a rush and a pass reception. Spelling Hayes in the backfield was Chris Wilson, who went for 98 yards on 18 rushes. In all the Cougars totaled 651 yards on offense, while the Houston defense held Memphis to only 321 yards, much of that coming at the end of the game.
Next up for the Cougars is a Friday night game against the UCF Knights of C-USA's East Division. The Knights, 6-2 on the season (4-0 in C-USA) are one of the better teams in C-USA. The Knights are one of those teams that the Cougars have struggled with in the past -- including losing to them last year. The Knights are a big physical team that relies on a strong run game, dominating the time of possession, and a defense that pounds away on opposing offenses.
"We've got to be smart in how we approach this week. We're coming off of short week. We'll get back late [Saturday], and then we'll get back to work [Sunday] and probably play what most people consider to be the best team in our league this week."
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Luckily for Cougar fans, the UCF game will be broadcast on ESPN, a real network, which will allow the game to actually be seen by those Houston fans who can't make it to Robertson Stadium.
A MISCELLANEOUS NOTE:
This game was another failure on part of those who negotiate the C-USA TV deals. The only people who could watch the game were those who had Comcast, because the game was on the so-called Comcast Sports network. The network is not made available to U-verse or satellite operators, so it's difficult to even find the games in sports bars -- there were some exceptions, but those exceptions were hard to find in Houston.
Making Saturday's situation even worse was the failure of the Cougars so-called internet option, UH All Access. The video feed never started, and the audio feed was of the Washington State/Arizona State football game (but hey, at least it was the Washington State Cougars). So if you were a Houston Cougar fan living outside of Houston, you could neither see nor hear the game. The money from these TV deals is important to the schools, but is it enough to make up for a majority of the actual fan base not being able to see the game?