Game 10 Recap – Tulsa

The Houston Cougars lost to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane 41-7, barely avoiding their first ever shutout at Robertson Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 25,827 on Homecoming Saturday night. In dropping their record to 4-6 (and 3-3 in Conference USA), the Coogs need to win their final two games of the regular season in order to avoid not playing in a bowl game for the second time in three seaso

As I had stated in my game preview, in order to win this game the Cougars would have had to play almost perfectly, combined with Tulsa (8-2, 6-0) making plenty of mistakes on their end. In actuality, the opposite occurred with the Coogs being the team that made mistake after mistake on both defense and offense. While the special teams didn't play poor, they didn't make any positive game changing plays either. In totality, this was a total team loss from the coaches' game plan down to the players' execution.

Offensively, the Cougars could not sustain any early drives (while their defense played well keeping them in the game). Quarterback David Piland finished the game an abysmal 15 of 32 for 148 yards with ZERO touchdowns and two interceptions. In fact if it weren't for a fumbled punt return that was recovered by defensive back Brannon Beasley (giving UH the ball at the Tulsa 34 yard line midway through the fourth quarter), the Coogs might have been shut out for the first time ever at the Rob. Crawford Jones led the Coogs on that ‘epic' four play, 34 yard drive highlighted by two nice passes to freshman running back Ryan Jackson, the final one being a 16 yard wheel route for the score. Jones completed only three of his eight passes for 36 yards, including a ‘pick-6' 22 yard interception which was returned for a TD on his first pass (by Cory Dorris) on a ‘swing pass' (intended for Farrow) that he didn't get over the outstretched arms of the Tulsa defensive end.. The running game was just as ineffective as the passing game as the Coogs only accumulated 78 yards (114 before three TU sacks took away 36) on 32 total carries. Kenneth Farrow played admirably finishing with 55 tough yards on 15 carries, but once the team fell behind by a few scores the running game became obsolete. Piland probably was the best rusher for the Coogs on the game finishing with 45 yards on 9 carries (although he finished with only 22 yards as he lost 23 on 2 sacks), with three of those rushes converting 3rd & longs to first downs with 10 plus yard runs. Jackson finished with an ineffective 14 yards on 6 carries with many of them off tackle. The Cougars offensive line could not keep Tulsa's defensive line out of the backfield for the most part. Right guard Jacolby Ashworth being carted off the field early in the first quarter, with an apparent knee injury, probably didn't help the offensives cause, as the inside zone rushing game was ineffective.

With the rushing game being taken out of the game early, the receivers did little to help out as they seemed to drop the few good passes thrown from Piland, with true freshmen Deontay Greenberry and Larry McDuffy leading the way in terms of drops with at least two each. In adding to the dropped passes theme, outside receiver Mark Roberts dropped a ball that hit him right in the hands on a deep pass when the score was still tied at zero. Greenberry ended up leading the team with 49 yards on 5 receptions with Xavier Maxwell adding 42 yards on 4 receptions. McDuffy had only 8 yards on 2 catches and Daniel Spencer, the team's leading receiver, only caught one pass for 15 yards. Roberts and Ronnie Williams only caught one ball a piece (with Roberts' lone catch for 12 yards and Williams for 7). Farrow and Jackson caught a combined four passes for 51 yards but could not imitate injured teammate Charles Sims (out with an ankle injury). Many of the inside screens gained little to no yards as Tulsa's linebackers or defensive backs would end up tackling the Cougars slot receivers for little or no gain as they could gain no separation (yet another reoccurring theme this season). Slot receiver Shane Ros might have helped in this aspect, but his absence was felt yet again for this inconsistent wide receiver crew.

With the offense being so ineffective, especially early on, the defense was placed in bad position throughout the game as they were on the field for nearly 38 of the games 60 minutes. The defense may not have been bothered by being on the field so much last season only because the offense scored at such a quick rate. This season, however, has been a totally different story altogether. While a defense can play pumped up after watching their offense score early and often, quite the opposite happens once you have to re-enter the field after watching so many "three and outs" (6 in 16 total offensive possessions for the game) or turnovers, time after time after time as has been the case all season. Why offensive coordinator Travis Bush refused to abandon the no-huddle when the offense is struggling continues to baffle me. In fact, because of this inept offense, Tulsa's first two scoring drives started at the Cougars 34 yard line(after the Coogs punted out of the back of their own end zone after a three and out that started on the 4 yard line), and their own 47 (after a Cougars failed fourth down attempt). While the defense did a decent job of keeping the Tulsa offense in check through the first quarter, the continued pounding of Tulsa's ‘power spread' running game eventually wore down the overmatched Cougars defense to the tune of  an astonishing 360 yards on 50 carries. None of the Cougars front four could get off of their blocks from the Tulsa offensive line as the Coogs could only amass only four tackles for loss and one sack. They entered play Saturday night averaging almost 8 tackles for loss and more than 3 sacks per game. While linebackers Phillip Steward (13 tackles including 1 for loss and a forced fumble) and Derrick Mathews (11 tackles) along with free safety Trevon Stewart (12 tackles) played their anticipated solid games, mike linebacker Everett Daniels played maybe his best game as a Coog as he amassed 18 total tackles (including 1 for loss) along with a sack. Corner back Thomas Bates also played a superb game with 7 tackles (including one for loss) and three pass break ups. Bates play was surprising considering he had only had 9 tackles and 5 pass breakups entering play Saturday. He even did his best D.J. Hayden impersonation as he read a few running plays, beat his blocker and made a few tackles near or behind the line of scrimmage. The Cougars problem on defense was their lack of depth as once it was evident that Bates finally came to play, Tulsa just turned to the opposite side of the field and picked on Zach McMillian as he was beat numerous times by whomever he tried to cover, much to defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant's chagrin.

As for Special teams, they failed to help the team win yet again. Returns wise – Jackson, Spencer and Roberts combined to average a paltry 14.8 yards per return on 8 total kickoff returns(even after Spence returned The Opening kickoff 32 yards), lowering the teams' already pathetic average to below 18 yards per return per game. Damian Payne returned one punt for four yards. Due to the lack of a play maker in the returns game, the Coogs started 9 of their 16 possessions inside of their own 20 yard line. Asking this offense to drive the field in order to score is asking a lot. Besides a 19 yard punt return by Tulsa's Trey Watts, the coverage team allowed two other punt returns for three total yards. Punter Richie Leone continues his solid season as he averaged 46 yards on 8 punts. Kicker Matt Hogan missed a 32 yard field goal, wide left, which would have given the Coogs an early 3-0 lead after their third possession of the game. With that early confidence who knows how the game might have changed, as that seemed to take a little air out of the Rob.

Overall, the team continued to play undisciplined and it was self-inflicted wounds that hurt them almost as much as Tulsa's play. Undisciplined as in the defensive line continuing to fail to keep containment on opposing QBs. One example being the numerous pass interference calls on McMillian and Bates on third down. The defense allowed the Golden Hurricane to convert 6 of their final 12 third downs into first downs (after starting 1 for 5) which kept drives alive, allowing Tulsa to keep momentum. Another example of this lack of discipline came on a 4th and goal from the Cougars one yard line where nobody accounted for Tulsa QB Cody Green as he scored on a bootleg in which he easily jogged into the endzone (making the score 31-0 at the time). Offensively, the play calling by Bush didn't put his men in position to succeed on the field. There is little to no misdirection that defined this offense over the past few seasons. Three possessions in a row he called for runs up the middle on 3rd (or 4th) and short which fooled nobody. One of these calls was for Jackson, whom would definitely not be considered a ‘between the tackles' type of runner. Another call gave Farrow the ball on what appeared to be a QB zone read play where the tackles allow the ends to rush untouched. If the ends commit to the back, the QB takes the ball around the tackle. The play is failed to doom though when the QB predetermines to give it to the back, no matter what the unblocked end does – in this case he tackled Farrow for a loss. Poor play calling combined with horrible execution equals an ugly game, which is what we saw Saturday night. The first bad play call on 4th & short came at midfield with the Coogs trailing only 3-0 late in the first quarter. I'm not sure if it was a called QB keeper but Piland kept the ball on what appeared to be a horrible executed bootleg, giving TU the ball and killing all momentum. The Golden Hurricane would go on to score giving them a 10-0 lead, effectively ending the game. This appears to be head coach Tony Levine (and staff's) most fatal short coming, their utter failure to be able to slightly motivate this team to play ball once they get down. In their four wins they got out to an early lead and coasted home. In their six losses the team craters once they get hit in the mouth, and fail to get back up and fight. If the team fails to show any emotion in their remaining two games (at Marshall next week followed by the last game ever at the Rob versus Tulane two days after Thanksgiving), athletic director Mack Rhoades will have some very difficult decisions to make this offseason.

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