Game 6 Analysis – BYU

The Houston Cougars fell just short in one of the most physical, exciting and tightly contested games in some time falling just short to the Cougars of BYU, losing 47-46 before an intense crowd of 33,115 at Reliant Stadium this past Saturday giving them their first loss after beginning the season winning their first five games.

Houston head coach Tony Levine was quoted after the Memphis victory two Saturday's ago as saying, "I heard a wise coach once say more games are lost than won." This was definitely the case against BYU as it was Houston's mistakes that ultimately cost them this game, despite all of the positive plays that were made during the four hours Saturday afternoon. Even though the Cougars were undefeated entering play, you just knew the kind of mistakes they were making throughout the season would eventually cost them, and Saturday it did. Easily correctable mistakes such as penalties at inopportune times, dropped passes, forced passes and missed field goals cost the Coogs this game. These mistakes were in all three phases of the game (offense, defense and special teams) as this was a total team loss.


Overall the offense was hit-or-miss as they passed for 435 yards behind John O'Korn's 29-of-45 effort for 363 yards with 3 touch downs through the air, including connecting on all 5 of his passes for 78 yards and an improbable TD to receiver Deontay Greenberry (11 receptions for 68 yards and 2 TDs) after spinning out of a would-be sack, to give the Coogs their final lead (46-41) with just under two minutes remaining in the game. O'Korn made several plays that had the coaches saying, "No, no, no, yes!" as he avoided pressure several times to hit receivers downfield for huge plays downfield, including several passes in which he took hard physical shots by the BYU defense upon releasing the ball. O'Korn also used his legs to avoid pressure, but it was that same ‘can-do' attitude that led O'Korn to take a few un-needed sacks, one that led to a field goal miss which we'll get into later. Hopefully he'll learn that sometimes it's ok to take a sack (or simply throw the ball away) and live to fight another down. The true freshman QB also forced a few too many passes for my liking, but then again that's what you get with a true freshman at the helm. After BYU scored to take a late lead, O'Korn had a wide open receiver on a shallow crossing route (which was open all day under BYU's zone defense), but instead tried to force the ball into coverage downfield, leading to his third interception of the game. These are mistakes he'll learn from as you can't accept all of the incredible plays the youngster creates without accepting his mistakes. BYU's defense added to the mistakes by not allowing the open passing lanes that O'Korn had been used to seeing all season long, especially my favorite play which is the quick slant to Greenberry as BYU's all-everything linebacker Kyle Van Noy clogged those lanes beautifully throughout the game. Greg Ward completed two passes (for 72 total yards); including one for a 69-yard TD to Xavier Maxwell (5 receptions for 136 yards) down the right sideline on the Coogs third possession of the game. It seems like the offense relies on explosive plays in order to score as they cannot sustain consistent drives for the most part. Of Daniel Spencer's 186 yards (on 7 receptions), at least 130 came on YAC yardage (run after the catch). Larry McDuffey contributed 31 yards on 3 receptions but for whatever reason has not been effective as he was last season when he played as a true freshman. As for Markeith Ambles and Aaron Johnson, a few of their mistakes contributed in the loss as both have the potential to be great but are making too many mistakes to be counted on much further. Ambles dropped a two-point conversion pass from O'Korn which would have given the Coogs a 48-41 lead late in the game and has dropped too many passes this season overall. He needs to learn to use his hands better as he lets the ball get into and bounce off his chest too often. Johnson's mistakes include giving up on a fade route on third down early in the game in the red zone that led to a field goal as well as missing a few blocks on receiver screens that could have netted key yards during fourth quarter drives. Running back Ryan Jackson added 15 yards on 3 receptions, mainly on swing routes out of the backfield.

As inconsistent as the offense is in passing the ball, it's even more so in the rushing game as the Coogs rushed for under 50 yards for the second consecutive game (after averaging almost 230 through the first four games of the season). Against two stout defensive lines in Memphis and BYU, power back Kenneth Farrow has rushed for a total of 42 yards on 19 combined carries. Jackson added 63 yards on 14 carries one week after rushing for only 7 on 7 carries against the Tigers. The switching of Rowdy Harper and DeAnthony Sims, with Harper being switched from left tackle to guard with Sims moving out to tackle looks to have affected both their outside and inside zone rushing schemes as the more athletic Harper's early season knee injury looks to have hampered his ability to get out and block off the edge. Center Bryce Redman continues to garner holding penalties as he's often in a size disadvantage (being only 285 pounds battling 300 plus pound interior defensive linemen). Kevin Forsch and Zach Johnson on the right side have performed adequately but as a whole the entire line needs to perform better in order for the offense to hit on all cylinders. Losing starting left tackle Ralph Oragwu for the season and left guard Ty Cloud (who's played little in reserve), due to injuries has contributed mightily to the inconsistency along the line. Finally offensive coordinator Doug Meacham could call plays a little more consistently as well, especially in how he rotates in his QBs. One series after Ward threw his TD he was replaced by O'Korn, who then leads his team down the field for a score only to be replaced by Ward on the very next series. I would also like to see Ward more in the redzone, maybe on some speed option pitches alongside Jackson as running between the tackles has not worked in goal-to-goal situations this season.


While giving up yards between the 20s all season long, the Cougars defense led by first year defensive coordinator David Gibbs, has been all about forcing turnovers, with Saturday being no different as BYUs Taysom Hill tossed three interceptions, two to corner back Thomas Bates and one to Mike linebacker Derrick Mathews (who took it 29-yards to the house for a "pick-6" TD). On the season the Coogs still lead the nation with a plus 2.33 turnover margin (21 gained to only 7 lost). The theme to this analysis (and season) however, has been consistency (or lack thereof) as the Coogs defense has been hit-or-miss all season long as well. It seems as if opposing offenses get sacked or tackled for a loss of yards, or they gash the Coogs for huge yardage downfield, with Saturday being no different. Hill completed 29 of his 44 passes for 417 yards (with 4 TDs) and added 128 yards on 34 carries, and that's including losing 66 additional yards on 8 Houston sacks. Gibbs had his defense adjust nicely throughout the game though, holding BYU to "only" 406 yards and 17 points after the Cougars scored 31 points on their first 4 possessions as they outgained Houston 275 yards to 90 in the first quarter alone. Of course for reasons unknown BYU stopped using the ‘diamond formation' after that first quarter for the most part. The diamond forced Houston to load 7, sometime 8, in the box which created one-on-one matchups on the perimeter, which BYU took plenty advantage of. BYU's taller receivers, Hoffman (6-feet-4, 210 pounds), Mathews (6'6, 206), Apo (6'3, 207) and Ridley (6'0, 182), all took turns beating UH corners, Thomas Bates (5'10, 183), Zach McMillian (5'10, 178), William Jackson (6'1, 175), Turon Walker (5'11, 190) and even ball hawking safeties Trevon Stewart (5'9, 192) and Adrian McDonald (5'10, 191) to the tune of a combined 355 yards on 20 receptions and 3 TDs, with Hoffman's 156 yards on 7 receptions leading the way. Even when the Coogs played man-to-man coverage, their smaller defensive backs could not (or would not) jam the bigger more physical Cougar receivers at the line of scrimmage. These free releases off the line allowed their receivers to get open down the field at will against UH's cover-two and single high safety zone looks. As for one of the positives, Gibbs ability to change things up (strategy wise) allowed his defense to dial up the pressure especially during a third quarter in which they allowed only 59 yards on 4 possessions. Houston's front four of starting ends Trevor Harris and Eric Eiland, along with tackles Joey Mbu and Tomme Mark with Tyus Bowser and Cameron Malveaux in reserve at end, with B.J. Singleton and Jeremiah Farley in reserve at tackle amped up the pressure though they did lose contain off the edge several times allowing outside rushes for huge gains, especially from BYU's Hill. Harris, Eiland, Bowser, Mark and Singleton all added sacks and tackles-for-loss on the game. Overall, BYU's offensive coordinator (Robert Anae) out-schemed Gibbs in my opinion as their formations dictated the matchups they wanted, mainly with the diamond formation forcing one-on-one matchups outside along with Hill's ability to run the ball when UH went into man coverage (making it easier to gain yards as the corners had their backs turned to the QB).

As has been the case for the previous five games, Houston's linebackers stole the show defensively highlighted by the starters, Mathews, Efram Oliphant (at the weakside spot) and Steven Taylor (from his strongside spot). Oliphant led the team in tackles for the game with 16 (including 2 for loss) also adding a sack. Taylor was also a terror adding a career high 15 tackles (plus a sack) and the stalwart Mathews added 12, including 4 for loss and 3 sacks (one for a safety) and the previously mentioned pick-6 for a score. For the season the three linebakers lead the defense in tackles behind Mathews 61, Oliphant's 58 and Taylor's 44.

Special Teams

Houston's special teams made plays that also helped lose this game, along with a few that would have contributed in victory had they won. Richie Leone has been money all season long as a punter and Saturday was no different as 4 of his 8 punts (which averaged 47.9 yards overall) pinned BYU inside their own 20-yard line. Unfortunately his final punt only sailed 44 yards, aided by having to punt from the back of his own endzone with only 8 yards of protection instead of the normal 15 as Houston's line of scrimmage was their own 4-yard line after a false start – which was yet another small mistake that led to the loss. Leone also missed two field goals; both from 40-yards on out and is now 11-for-16 on the season with 3 of those 5 misses coming from beyond the 40. One major positive for Jamie Christian's special teams unit has been kickoff returner Demarcus Ayers, who returned 4 kickoffs for 167 yards, including a 95-yard beauty which started at his own 5 on the left side of the field. The true freshman then cut back near midfield before outrunning everybody for his first ever TD. On the season Ayers is 15th nationally as he's averaging more than 28 yards on 17 total kickoff returns. Damian Payne returned 3 punts for 9 yards and wasn't a factor as usual. Returns wise, BYU had 47-yard kickoff return to open the second half, but nothing other than that.

Overall, the Cougars were leading by five with three minutes and twenty-six seconds remaining with possession of the ball and with one first down (which was not gained), you would be reading about all of the positives of this game instead of the various mistakes in all three phases of the game that ultimately cost them the victory. Mistakes such as dropped passes by Ambles 2-point conversion attempt or a Greenberry drop on third and medium that would have extended a drive midway through the fourth. Mistakes such as a face mask penalties by Mark and Farley that gave BYU's offense first downs to extend drives, or fatal mistakes such as McMillian's five yard offsides penalty that wiped out a tackle for loss that would have set up a third-and-seven from the UH 17-yard line, instead of a second-and-one from the 11-yard line which led to the fatal final BYU TD on the very next play. Or the mistake of O'Korn taking a 15-yard sack from BYU's 8-yard line that led to a Leone missed 40 yard field goal in the fourth quarter with the Coogs trailing, which was one of three Leone missed field goals in a ONE point loss. As they say, players make plays and unfortunately the Coogs came up one play short Saturday afternoon. Some say the ultimate mark of a team is how they respond to adversity. Will this young Houston ball club let this heart-breaking loss affect them so it becomes two losses in a row, or does it motivate them to play lights out next week on the road against a tough Rutgers team? I say the latter as this team showed heart and no-quit. With a 2-0 conference record, all of the teams' goals are still out in front of them, mainly winning the first American Athletic Conference championship, securing a spot in this season's Orange Bowl.

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