Preseason Concerns Are Playing Out

Saturday turned out to be a bad day for the Cougars. With Texas, A&M, and, eventually, Baylor losing, UH had the chance to step to the forefront of Lone Star Football. The opportunity was there, but UH was not ready. UH failed to capitalize on a late-game comeback and lost an overtime heartbreaker to Texas Tech. 

Stop me if you have heard this before: the Cougar offense crawls out of the gate and falls behind early. The defense puts a ton of pressure on the QB, enough to keep the Coogs in the game. Down by 14 points at the half, UH chipped away with an early third quarter score and a pick-six in the 4th quarter to tie the game. The Coogs took the lead with 37 seconds to play on to give up another game-tying field goal as time expired. It was a repeat of UTSA until it was worse.

On that last drive and in overtime, the defense wore down. After a UH touchdown to start overtime, Derek Parish had two sacks in three plays to push Tech up against the wall. Then, coming out of a timeout, on 4th and 20, UH dropped seven men into coverage to defend three downfield receivers and somehow forgot about the two receivers crossing underneath. The Tech QB Smith scrambled to find one of them to pick up the improbable first down. On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Doug Belk said his players relaxed because they felt the game was over (before the 4th down play).

Tech would score two plays later, sending the game to a second overtime. But daggers like 4th and 20 are hard to overcome, and UH lost their fifth straight to Texas Tech (and 10 of 11 since 1991).

Before the season, I wrote about my concerns which have played out in the first two weeks. The offensive line has struggled to protect the QB and open holes for the running game. Brandon Campbell has started to run well, but no one has shown they are ready to replace Alton McCaskill. The run blocking has been so poor that the backs have had little chance.

The defensive line has done a great job pressuring the QB like madmen. Despite an intense pass rush, the defense is giving up 343 yards passing per game, putting them #127 out of 130 teams (UH gives up 318 yards in regulation which would still be #123). Houston is missing Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams, and Tech knew it: the Red Raiders threw it 24 times last year against the Cougars but 55 times in 2022.

Nathaniel Dell punt return is called back and Holgorsen is furious // Photo by Mario Puente

The good news is that all these issues are correctable. The offensive line added depth in the offseason, which gives them options. Using the wide receiving talent to move to a more wide-open and quick-hitting passing attack could go a long way to kick-starting the offense. Unfortunately, UH is ranked #100 in rushing, #74 in passing, and #82 in passing efficiency. Worse, the Cougar offense has produced just 17 points in the first three quarters of the first two games and 37 total points in regulation.

On defense, the tackling has to improve. UH has at least 32 missed tackles in 2 games, and fixing that will make a massive difference (last year’s defense averaged nine missed tackles per game). The defensive backs can make adjustments and settle into their roles. Most importantly, the defense needs to toss whatever they are doing with the “prevent” defense. If you have the lead with 23 and 37 seconds, you cannot give up the drives that have tied both games.

UH will get right, in part, thanks to the schedule. UTSA was coming off a C-USA championship, and while Tech had a miserable season, they returned some legit talent. The schedule going forward is much more manageable, and UH will out-talent every team left.

I still expect 10-2 at a minimum, and I still won’t be shocked with 8-4. Now you can see why.
 

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Brad Towns
Brad Towns
Towns is a former UH athlete, having played baseball for the Cougars in the mid-90's. He is most famous for walking 9 LSU batters in just 3 innings vs. LSU. He also fired a 2-hit complete game shutout of SFA.
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