The Houston Cougars were huge favorites coming into Saturday night's game against the Texas State Bobcats. It was the Bobcats' very first ever game as an FBS school. But like the last time the Cougars played a game at Robertson Stadium before a packed crowd, the Cougars were embarrassed, losing 30-13.
The Cougars went three and out on their first offensive series. The Bobcats ran eight plays on their first offensive series and scored a touchdown. The Cougars got a 50-yard Matt Hogan field goal on their next possession, only to have the Bobcats' Marcus Curry bust a 73-yard run for the touchdown to put Texas State up 14-3.
The Cougars answered with a touchdown on their next possession, only to see Texas State score the next 13 points and put the game effectively out of reach. Because while a 17-point halftime deficit could've easily been covered by past UH teams, this is not the past. The Cougars couldn't find the answers on the offense and Texas State easily got the win.
"I'm disappointed," head coach Tony Levine said after the loss. "I'm disappointed for our fans, for our program, for our seniors. Everybody deserves better than what we just did tonight."
If you're a Cougar fan, there aren't many positive things to say about this game. The offense never clicked, and quarterback David Piland at times looked as if he'd never stepped foot on a football field. At one point in the second half, 13 of 14 Piland passes had been incompletions. He generally missed short on his passes, and when he did hit a receiver, the receiver dropped the ball -- the one notable exception being when Piland hit freshman Larry McDuffey on a short slant in the first quarter that McDuffey turned into a 64-yard TD.
But as bad as the offense was, they weren't helped by the poor play of the defense in the first half. Levine said the defense knew what Texas State would be doing on offense, and that they prepared for what Texas State would do. But in the first half, knowing what Texas State would try to do wasn't enough to stop the Bobcats from doing what they wanted to do.
"It looks like we made a number of adjustments [at the half]," Levine said. "And obviously we showed our players what they were doing, and the problems we were having. But against that type of offense, if one guy makes an assignment error and hits the wrong gap -- you see the result."
But it looked like the same UH defense that the fans have seen for years. Texas State had a running quarterback, and the Cougars always struggle against teams with running QBs. The Cougars also always struggle against teams with good running backs, and they struggled against the Bobcats' Curry. But just how much of Texas State's success was the result of outstanding offensive play and how much of it resulted from the UH defense not making plays is something that'll be learned in later weeks.
Yet the Cougars have shown over the years that they can win games despite a poor defense. Of course, in years past, the Cougar offense has been able to easily put points on the board. That's not going to happen with this year's offense, or so it seems. "Nobody played good enough to win," Levine said. "But the defense gave our offense ample opportunities in field position for us to score more than 13 points."
The primary problem for the Cougars, besides Piland looking like a high school freshman facing Alabama or LSU, was that the team's most dynamic offensive player, Charles Sims, never really got into the flow of the game. And Levine said that's on him and the coaching staff, claiming that they've got to find ways to get him involved in the game, which he said is kind of hard to do when the offense is time and again going three and out while having to deal with a porous first-half defense that put the team in a huge hole.
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"We know where we're at right now," Levine said. "We said that going into this game that tonight, at about 11 o'clock, we'd know where we are as a 2012 football team."
What they know is they're a team that needs a lot of work. And if they don't get that work done, then they're easily looking at a 0-3 start to the season because they can't play like they did on Saturday night and defeat Louisiana Tech and UCLA.
Cougar fans probably didn't expect this season to be the magic carpet ride that was last season. They also probably didn't expect to start this season by losing to Texas State. But if things don't improve, this season could get real ugly real fast.