Another poor showing from the Houston defense has left the Cougars with one final chance to become bowl eligible.
A one-sided 59-41 beatdown Saturday at the hands of Southern Miss has left the Cougars 5-6 overall (4-4 in C-USA play), and with just one game remaining at 6-5 Texas Tech, home to one of the nation's toughest venues, things aren't looking good for Houston.
"It stinks," Cougars wide receiver Tyron Carrier told the Houston Chronicle. "Nobody playing for us wanted to be in this type of predicament. But we put ourselves in this predicament, and we've got to work our way out of it."
Carrier and the Houston offense again were good enough to win (41 points, 491 yards of total offense).
The problem Saturday, as it's been pretty much all season, was a Houston defense that allowed 642 yards of total offense to Southern Miss, including 349 rushing yards. That's the fourth consecutive Houston opponent to rush for more than 200 yards and sixth in 11 games this season.
When people look back at this disappointing Houston Cougars season, it will be easy to write off a mediocre, and possibly losing, season because of the season-ending injuries in Week 3 to star senior quarterback Case Keenum and his junior backup Cotton Turner, but the reality is the stat sheet tells another story. Houston's offense still leads C-USA and is 10th in the nation in scoring with 39.3 points per game.
The main culprit for Houston's forgettable season is clearly defense, even more specifically, a run defense which allows 217.3 rushing yards per game and is now ranked 116th in the nation.
--Freshman LB Efram Oliphant has been one of the few bright spots for the Houston defense. In his second career start in place of injured senior LB Matt Nicholson, Oliphant tied for the team lead with 12 tackles (11 solo), meaning he's led or shared the team lead in tackles in each start of his young career.
Last week against Tulsa, Oliphant had 15 tackles in a game he said allowed him to settle his nerves and realize he can perform as a starter.
"It gave me a lot of encouragement that I could go out there and do well," Oliphant told the Houston Chronicle. "It lets the team and coaches know I'm going to go out there and make plays for them. They don't have anything to worry about just because I'm a freshman."
--After losing three straight games, Houston has to win at Texas Tech on Nov. 27 to even its season record at 6-6 and reach bowl-eligible status. It won't be easy. Texas Tech has a 43-8 home record since 2003.
--Senior TE Wesley Scourten did it again. At the end of the first half Saturday at Southern Miss, Scourten blocked a field goal that teammate Tyron Carrier returned 89 yard for a score. It was Scourten's fifth blocked kick of the season and ninth of his career.
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB David Piland -- After throwing a career-high five interceptions in a Nov. 13 loss to Tulsa, Piland looked like a seasoned pro. He completed 28 of 47 passes for 467 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Three of his TD passes came in the fourth quarter.
KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Efrem Oliphant -- Making his second career start in place of injured senior Matt Nicholson, it appears Oliphant's Nov. 13 debut in which he had 15 tackles was no fluke. Oliphant tied for the team lead with 12 tackles Saturday against Southern Miss, including 11 solo stops. He has 27 tackles in the past two games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's never one thing. If it were one thing, it would be easy to fix." -- Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin in the Houston Chronicle.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Houston offense moved the ball well against Southern Miss and true freshman QB David Piland answered the bell after a five-interception game last week against Tulsa. Piland completed 28 of 47 passes for an impressive 467 passing yards and four TDs to counter one interception. Piland has overcome a weak offensive line performance in front of him this season and picked up the offense extremely well considering he was still No. 4 on the depth chart nearly a month into the season. Houston got another promising performance from a freshman with LB Efram Oliphant notching a team-high 12 tackles.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Houston's on again, off again rushing attack was off again Saturday at Southern Miss. The Cougars had 19 carries for a grant total of 24 rushing yards. Considering the lack of consistency in the run game, it's all the more impressive to watch what true freshman QB David Piland has been able to do this year. But the No. 1 candidate for the "still needs work" category remains the Cougars' rush defense. Houston let Southern Miss running backs have their way on Saturday. The Golden Eagles ran the ball 52 times for 349 rushing yards and six -- yes, six -- rushing touchdowns. Southern Miss is the sixth team this season to go for more than 200 rushing yards against Houston.
--DT Matangi Tonga's presence up front since returning from knee surgery on Nov. 5 hasn't been what the team had hoped for. Tonga, who should be credited for returning at all this season, hasn't been able to shore up the Cougars Swiss cheese run defense and had just two stops Saturday at Southern Miss.