HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 01: David Piland #8 of the Houston Cougars drops back to pass during their game against the Texas State Bobcats at Robertson Stadium on September 1, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
6 Total Updates since September 5, 2012
8 months ago Update 0 comments
After a season-opening loss to lowly Texas State, breaking in a new offensive coordinator, and with conference play still three weeks away, improvement was the name of the game for Houston on Saturday night. The scoreboard wasn't favorable, with Louisiana Tech beating the Cougars 56-49, but was there improvement? Yes and no.
The answer is a resounding yes if you're looking at the quarterback position. A week after looking scared and confused all night against Texas State, sophomore signal-caller David Piland threw 77 passes, and only a small handful weren't well-thrown. The 77 pass attempts was a UH single-game record (at a school that has thrown the ball around quite a bit), and his attempting that many passes without throwing an interception is an NCAA single-game record. Piland tossed 53 completions for 580 yards and four touchdowns, and every one of those numbers would have been markedly higher if not for a plethora of drops by the Cougar receivers.
The defense, on the other hand, was abysmal. It's one thing to give up 598 yards of total offense and 56 points to a team that's just carving you up with brilliant playcalling, a quarterback that's throwing perfect passes down field, and a receiving corps that's catching everything in the vicinity. But that wasn't the case. Bulldog quarterback Colby Cameron was good, but not great. Louisiana Tech helped Houston out by Cameron missing the occasional open receiver, and the Bulldog receivers dropping a few passes. But Houston's defense was brutal in their missed tackles, and their woeful inability to make defensive adjustments.
The Cougar defenders were trying to arm-tackle all night, and the Louisiana Tech playmakers had little trouble shrugging them off. Plays that should have been one-yard gains ended up going for 10+ and a first down all too frequently. I don't have yards after contact stats immediately available to me, but Louisiana Tech had an awful lot.
Even more frustrating was watching Louisiana Tech run the same play over and over again, and Houston never figuring out how to stop it. If you attended the game, stop me when this sounds familiar: Cameron takes the snap, puts the ball in his running back's chest, and looks right. If the Cougar linebacker on that side breaks out to help defend the two receivers on that side of the field, Cameron hands it off to the running back, who goes up the middle for a big gain. If the Cougar linebacker stays at home to try and stop the run, Cameron pulls the ball back and throws a bubble screen, which invariably goes for an eight-yard gain. That simple option read was probably run by Louisiana Tech in about half of their second-half offensive snaps. And the Cougars never had an answer. It would have been understandable if the offense, with just five days to prepare under a new coordinator, had struggled to that extent. But there's really no reason for Jamie Bryant's defense to fail to defend the same play so completely and so repeatedly.
Oh, committing 15 penalties for 138 yards isn't really a winning formula, either. Sadly, the complete lack of mental focus that leads to those staggering numbers wasn't even the team's biggest issue.
To try and end this on a positive note, I certainly liked Houston's fighting spirit in the game. They looked defeated for most of the opening loss to Texas State, whereas they actually looked like they were emotionally invested in the game against Louisiana Tech. Watching your team go down swinging is infinitely less upsetting than watching them just go through the motions.
That said, this team still has a long ways to go. The receiving corps needs to find a way to catch passes more consistently, the offensive line needs to find a way to open up bigger holes for Charles Sims in the running game, Piland needs to make sure he doesn't regress to how he played in the opener, and the defense, well, needs to improve most everything.
The Cougar season is very far from over, and the goal of a Conference USA championship is very much still there for the taking. But that's a long way off for a team that needs to find a way to win a football game before anything else.
8 months ago Update 0 comments
Very little defense was played when Louisiana Tech and Houston played on Saturday night. Both teams rolled to more than 500 yards of total offense, and David Piland threw for 580 yards and four touchdowns alone for the Cougars. In the end, it was Louisiana Tech that had just enough defense as the Bulldogs pulled out a 56-49 victory.
Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron had an excellent day of his own with 353 yards passing and three touchdowns. Tevin King also rushed for 108 yards and three touchdowns.
Louisiana Tech gained 598 yards of total offense to 693 for Houston, as almost 1,300 yards total were gained on the evening. Louisiana Tech led 56-35 with just over six minute to play, but the Cougars managed two late touchdowns and could not recover an onside kick after Deontay Greenberry scored with 35 seconds left.
8 months ago Update 0 comments
In their opening game against Texas State, the Houston Cougars suffered an upset loss and now enter their second game of the season as underdogs. Louisiana Tech are one-point favorites over the Cougars for Saturday's game despite not playing in the opening week of the season.
Louisiana Tech was scheduled to play the Texas A&M Aggies on Saturday, but the threat of Hurricane Isaac forced officials to postpone the game until October, so the Bulldogs will instead kick off their season Saturday against Houston.
In their opener, the Houston offense that has featured prolific passers like Kevin Kolb and Case Keenum in the recent past, struggled to get anything going with David Piland at the helm. Piland completed 17 of his 44 pass attempts as Texas State cruised to a 30-13 victory.
Game time/date: 7 p.m. CT, Saturday, Sept. 8
Location: Robertson Stadium, Lawrence, KS
TV Schedule/Streaming: CBS Sports Network
Odds: Louisiana Tech favored by 1 point.
9 months ago Update 0 comments
Game number two of the Houston Cougar football season literally can't be any worse than the first. (Barring a terrorist attack on Robertson Stadium.) Even if the Coogs stumble out of the gate and lose by multiple scores again, at least it will have been to a much better team this time around.
If the first game taught us anything, it's that trying to break down which team has an advantage in certain matchups can be irrelevant if one team shows up ready to play and the other does not. So we're going to tweak the idea a little bit this week, and simply look at the challenges facing the Cougars at each position.
Quarterbacks, like head coaches, usually get more than their fair share of credit and blame in both victories and defeats. David Piland has been no exception. You couldn't hardly blame the guy if he was pining for a road game, given the way the Houston "fans" have treated him. During his freshman season, every mistake he made lead to knuckleheads in the stands chanting for his now-departed backup. After Piland struggled in the season-opener, since apparently "Kohlhausen" is too difficult to chant effectively, the critics puffed themselves up as Internet tough guys and took to Twitter to criticize Piland directly, calling him "worthless", "terrible", and calling for him to be replaced at quarterback. Piland characteristically took the high road, sticking to his usual diet of Bible verse tweets, including, "Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses."
Saturday will give us a good indication if Piland can be as good a quarterback as he is a patient and forgiving person. He's certainly not lowering his expectations in light of the season-opening loss, saying that the "execution problem" of week one "won't happen again", and declaring that the offense under new offensive coordinator Travis Bush will be "great" and "a lot of fun to watch".
Fortunately for Piland, much of the defense that stymied the Cougars for 40 minutes a year ago is gone. The Bulldogs have a pair of talented, experienced defensive tackles in Justin Ellis and Shakeil Lucas, but lose both top pass rushers off the end to graduation. Both starting linebackers (La Tech runs a 4-2-5 base defense), the team's two 100+ tacklers from a year ago, graduate as well. Those four departing starters take with them a combined 18 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss.
Still, there's enough talent coming back that Piland will be facing a much more talented defensive attack than the one that gave him so much trouble last week.
The running backs didn't really struggle against Texas State; the real struggle related to the position was the coaching staff struggling to get them (particularly Charles Sims) enough touches. The Cougar running backs have a stiffer test coming for them Saturday against a Louisiana Tech team that allowed under 3.5 yards per carry a year ago, and as mentioned, the two big run-stuffers in the middle are back. Look for Sims, and freshmen Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow, to get more touches in the passing game, and maybe on some runs off tackle to try and get them the ball in space, away from the big defensive tackles.
Houston's retooled, inexperienced receiving corps looked, well, inexperienced against Texas State. They didn't look comfortable in their routes, they dropped passes, and committed a fumble. This week they'll be facing a secondary that returns three senior starters. Everybody is hoping that the switch in offensive leadership will pay big dividends, but the receivers will have to be more consistently productive for that to happen.
While we're on the subject of consistent production, that's the name of the game for the offensive line, as well. Last week they had snaps where they paved big holes for Sims, snaps where they held long pockets for Piland, and snaps where they got inexplicably manhandled by an undersized Texas State pass rush. If the hogmollies can do a respectable job of keeping Ellis, Lucas, and high-motor defensive end IK Enemkpali out of the backfield, it will be a huge step forward.
The good news for the Cougars as they try to stop Louisiana Tech's running game: former Tennessee transfer Lennon Creer, who gashed Houston for 112 total yards last year, is gone. The bad news: pretty much everything else. The Bulldogs return four of five starters on the offensive line, and have impressive depth at running back, led by senior Ray Holley and sophomore Hunter Lee. Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes feels comfortable enough with the depth at the position that he's been giving both Lee and Holley some reps at the receiver position, just to keep his offense versatile.
The offensive line Houston will be going up against is a good one. Four of the five projected starters are seniors with starting experience, and four of the five projected starters weigh in at over 300 pounds. The Bulldogs run a four-wide spread offense, so getting some amount of pressure on quarterback Colby Cameron, and slowing down the running game enough that the secondary can focus on guarding four receivers rather than chasing after running backs, are steep challenges for the defensive line.
Head coach Tony Levine was actually quite complimentary of the play of linebackers Phillip Steward and Derrick Mathews in the opener. The two combined for 28 tackles, including 7.5 for a loss. Conspicuously absent were any compliments for Everett Daniels, who struggled at times with the Bobcats' read-option offense. In addition to the aforementioned Lee-Holley running duo, the linebackers will have to contain Cameron, who isn't the most mobile of quarterbacks, but did scramble for 217 yards in six starts last year.
When asked at the Tony Levine Show on Wednesday, Houston's head man said there's a "very good" chance that the Cougars will mix up their defensive philosophies, and consider using more press coverage after Texas State repeatedly beat Houston on short out routes. Levine also noted that, from an execution standpoint, Houston's cornerbacks flat-out need to tackle better.
The secondary certainly has a much different challenge in front of it, facing LT's spread offense. Three of the Bulldogs' top four receivers from a year ago return, including 1,200-yard receiver Quinton Patton. Louisiana Tech also has the option of plugging in a fourth receiver with Division 1 starting experience, as they add Tulane transfer D.J. Banks.
The Cougars got a good look at Bulldog punter Ryan Allen a year ago, as his six punts went for an average of 47 yards, and three were downed inside the 20. Allen went on to win the Ray Guy award as the nation's top punter. While punters don't usually make game previews, Allen's NFL-caliber leg means that even if the Houston defense stops the Bulldog offense, it won't necessarily mean good field position for Piland and company.
The Bottom Line
The Cougars have a long way to go, and not a lot of time to get there if they're going to be competitive against Louisiana Tech on Saturday. The good news is that no matter what happened last week, the score still starts at 0-0 on Saturday. If you're looking for a potential X-factor, there are many. Will Louisiana Tech be a little rusty to open the season, after having their would-be opener postponed due to Hurricane Isaac? Will Houston be extra-motivated to make up for last week's embarrassing loss? Will the Bulldogs be extra-motivated to make up for last year's embarrassing loss to the Cougars? Will the home fans show up in full force, louder than ever, to try and will their team back to the level at which they expect them to play?
It's a well-worn truism that games aren't played on paper. This just happens to be one instance where even the paper doesn't know what the heck to expect. Other than that it won't be as bad as last week.
9 months ago Update 0 comments
The Houston Cougars' opening 30-13 upset loss to Texas State was ugly and embarrassing, but head coach Tony Levine told the Houston Chronicle he's gotten several calls of support from friends, including former Houston coach Kevin Sumlin.
Sumlin, who left the Cougars to coach the Texas A&M Aggies this season, called Levine on Monday to offer his support.
"He was one of many that’s reached out to me the last couple of days and given me encouragement," Levine said. "It means a lot to me."
Sumlin on the call:
"That was a tough situation for him Saturday and tough decisions were made," Sumlin said. "It’s one of those things as a head coach, until you’re in that chair, it’s hard to understand some of the decisions that are made. But you’re responsible for everybody in the program."
9 months ago Update 0 comments
New Houston Cougars offensive play-caller Travis Bush has the endorsement of head coach Tony Levine, something now-ex-offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt apparently didn't have.
Nesbitt resigned following the Cougars' anemic offensive performance in last weekend's embarrassing 30-13 loss to Texas State to open the 2012 season. Bush was named the new play-caller shortly after.
"He and I are on the same page," Levine told the Houston Chronicle. "Our philosophy is exactly the same."
The Chronicle report mentions the use of running back Charles Sims as one of the key philosophical differences between Levine and Nesbitt. It's safe to say fans can expect to see the back featured more than the 14 touches Sims got against Texas State.
Bush, who also coaches the quarterbacks, was the offensive coordinator at Texas-San Antonio last season.
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