It’s a cruel thing, a cat toying with an injured bird. All involved know the bird is about to die, but the cat seems to enjoy the cruelty, poking and prodding, stalling until the bird has given up.
Such was Saturday night’s football game at TDECU Stadium. The Houston Cougars (2-0) defeated the visiting Rice Owls (1-2) 38-3 in a game that was nowhere as close as that score seems to indicate. Kyle Allen completed 26 of 28 passes in just the first half alone. Three different UH running backs scored touchdowns. The Cougars finished the game by out-gaining Rice 484 to 242 yards, with both UH quarterbacks throwing only four incompletions the entire night.
Nothing that Rice tried worked. Quarterback Sam Glaesmann avoided Ed Oliver by throwing an interception to freshman UH lineman Payton Turner. Then, later on, Oliver knocked Glaesmann out of the game by chasing the quarterback down the field, catching him from the rear, knocking him to the turf, then forcing the turnover.
It just wasn’t fair, like the cat toying with the bird.
“I’ll be very honest,” UH head coach Major Applewhite said. “I thought we didn’t practice very well offensively this week. I was on the offensive staff really hard, because how do we practice like this and score 19 points [last week against Arizona] and think it’s okay. They were able to play well and perform well, but our standard and the way we want to practice wasn’t the way it should be.”
The UH offense seemed to struggle a bit in its opening game against Arizona. The passing game struggled some, and things just seemed to be a bit out of synch. But whatever problems the Cougars had against Arizona were nowhere to be found against a Rice defense that, a week before, had done a good job of stopping what many observers had deemed to be a good UTEP running game.
But UTEP was definitely not in the same class as Houston.
Kyle Allen left the game in the third quarter after completing 31 of 33 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns. Kyle Postma came in off the bench and threw the ball only five times while operating in game manager mode. Linnel Bonner was Houston’s top receiver, finishing with ten catches for 132 yards. Mulbah Car, Duke Catalon, Dillon Birden, Patrick Carr and Davion Mitchell all got in a few rushing attempts for the Cougars.
“It seemed like things came out on rhythm a little better, a little faster [than last week against Arizona]…it just seemed like [Allen] played with more anticipation, just felt a little more comfortable,” Applewhite said. ‘I thought our wide receivers got involved early. A lot of them got involved early.”
Rice did itself no favors. Glaesmann and Stewart mishandled a handoff while deep in their own territory, with the Cougars recovering the football and ultimately kicking a field goal. The offense, meanwhile, failed to get the ball into UH territory during the entirety of the first half, and converted just two third downs in that half while accumulating just a total of 70 offensive yards (finishing the game with a deceptive total of 242 yards coming mostly from garbage time play). But even still, there’s probably nothing Rice could have done because the Cougar defense zeroed on the Rice offensive scheme.
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“Rice’s offense got [the defense’s] attention,” Applewhite said. “They saw all of the stuff that they do, the complicating things that they do, and they got their attention.”
That Rice was able to get a field goal and its only three points late in the fourth quarter was likely more the result of UH emptying the bench and getting guys playing time than it was Rice finally finding a way to get to the Cougars. Still, as with Rice’s opening week loss to Stanford, the Owls did not get shut out, which should probably be a point of pride for the Owls this season when they're playing non-CUSA teams.
Houston could probably have come close to matching the 62 points that Stanford scored on Rice in the opening game. It appeared to be just that easy for the Cougars, and it appeared to be just that hard for the Owls to stop them. But then again, that’s part of the whole toying with the opponent thing, poking and prodding until all hope is gone.
The Cougars return to action on Saturday morning when the team hosts Texas Tech. The Owls will also finally get to play a home game this week when the team hosts FIU at Rice Stadium on Saturday night.