The Houston Cougars were destroyed on Thursday night. The Rice Owls blew a game they should have won on Saturday. The Owls loss is not surprising. The Cougars loss isn't really surprising, either, though the magnitude of the loss is.
The Cougars (3-5) lost to the SMU Mustangs by a 72-42 score on Thursday night. The UH quarterbacks threw seven interceptions. Three of the interceptions were returned for a touchdown. Another interception resulted in a field goal. The Cougars fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, and that was returned for a touchdown. The Cougars fumbled the first punt of the first half, and several plays later, the Mustangs scored.
The Cougars have played some ugly football this season (for instance, revisit the opening game loss to Texas State). But there's losing, and there's getting your ass handed to you, and SMU handed UH its ass.
It's easy to blame the offense -- three interceptions returned for touchdowns -- and that's a good place to start. The quarterbacks looked awful. But they didn't have a lot of help from the line. And after starter David Piland was knocked out of the game with what appeared to be concussion-like symptoms, the team appeared to give up.
But the special teams were a joke. Kevin Sumlin once held a kicking contest during the season to find any person who could kick the ball through the uprights. Perhaps Tony Levine needs to hold a contest to find any person who can actually catch a kickoff or a punt, because nobody on the team was capable of doing that Thursday. And the defense made UT flameout Garret Gilbert look like a competent quarterback.
The Cougars return home and host UTEP (2-6) on Saturday afternoon. This is a winnable game for the Cougars, an easily winnable game. But whether the Cougars can pick up the easy win is questionable. Who's going to play quarterback? Piland is day-for-day at the moment. And neither backup Crawford Jones, now better known as a radio broadcaster for the Astros, or redshirt Bram Kohlhausen played with distinction on Thursday night.
The best option for the Cougars may just be to give the ball to Charles Sims over and over again - Sims was about the only bright spot in the loss to SMU. But UTEP should be keying on Sims. Just as UAB keyed on Sims two weeks ago. And SMU grabbing the big lead, thanks to their special teams and defense, pretty much kept the Cougars from exploiting Sims.
The Cougars' problems are easily fixable, however, when compared to that of the Rice Owls. The Owls (2-6) lost to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (7-1) 28-24 on Saturday afternoon. But the Owls lost a game they were either tied or leading for most of the day. And they lost the game in the fashion that Rice fans have come to know and loathe: Rice beat itself.
The Owls were leading 24-21 with 2:59 left in the game. Then the normally reliable Chris Boswell missed a field goal from 36 yards -- that was Boswell's second miss of the day. Then the Owls defense did what the Owls defense does best: It gave up a big run up the middle of the field which involved missed tackle after missed tackle after missed tackle.
The Owls are a maddening team to watch. The offense is loaded with talent. Talent that coaching staff has never really found a way to properly use. And when quarterback Taylor McHargue is healthy, he finds a way to make it effective, primarily by using his feet to run off the option or passing it to one of the team's 5,000 tight ends. But like the defense, the offense usually pushes the self-destruct button once or twice on seemingly every drive, which means they have to rely on Boswell to get the points, or the defense to stop the other team, and depending on the Rice defense to stop opposing offenses is generally a pretty bad plan.
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The Owls are hosting winless Southern Miss this week. So that should be a game that Rice can win. Except for the fact that it's not always what the other team does to the Owls that brings about the loss. It's about what the Owls do to themselves that brings about losses.
The local college football scene is a bit more disappointing than it was at this time last season. The Owls are playing about as expected, but after a nearly perfect season last year, it's doubtful that Cougar fans were expecting the team to fall apart like it has so far.
There's no BCS talk coming out of the city of Houston this football season. The talk this season is more about the quest for respectability. And that's quite a comedown.