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Friday, September 29, 2023


FIGHTING WORDS: El Paso debacle

Jesse Livingston: It’s all about the defense

There is no excuse for allowing UTEP running back Donald Buckram to do what he did on Saturday night. Racking up 262 yards with four touchdowns? Really? Obviously, the run defense is atrocious right now. The Cougars are 113th nationally in rushing defense, while allowing 204.8 yards per game. Those holes had better be patched up by next Saturday, or Mississippi State’s Anthony Dixon could have a field day.

Sure, we all knew that the Cougars’ young and inexperienced defensive line would have problems. I now see another problem in the absence of senior linebacker Matt Nicholson, who suffered a season-ending injury during the Texas Tech game. His leadership and vocal presence, not to mention his aggressive tackling ‘- something that the Cougars lacked against the Miners ‘- will be sorely missed. Here’s to hoping Phillip Steward or Kris Johnston play with fire in their veins for the rest of the season.

Keith Cordero Jr.: Keenum needs help

I don’t care about knocking Jesse’s response after a loss like that. Who is Donald Buckram anyway? The guy might have snuck himself into the Heisman race after his performance against a tackle-phobic Cougars defense. Going for 262 yards and four touchdowns ‘- who does this guy think he is, Cal running back Jahvid Best?

As disappointed as I am with the loss, the greatest weaknesses the Cougars have are a propensity for being out of position on running plays and missing senior linebacker Matt Nicholson. Jesse is right, and Keenum can’t lead the team alone. His back has to be hurting right now from carrying the Cougars on his shoulders all night.

The bottom line is that UH is in a must-win situation against Mississippi State this week if they want to save this season. The BCS bowl game won’t happen, but coach Sumlin better get into the heads of his defensive players. His unit looked like Swiss cheese against a very subpar UTEP offense that played its best game ever.

Salomon Fuentes: They get no respect, no respect I tell ya.

Jesse, you’ve managed to point out the obvious – indeed, the Cougars have some issues on defense. That would’ve been clear to anyone who saw the final score.’

Of more concern is that the Cougars, who were already facing an uphill battle by being in a mid-major conference, could very well be marginalized by AP voters and coaches from here on out. The Cougars weren’t ranked for 19 years, and as much as the national media loves an underdog, it’s also always on the hunt for the next Cinderella story.

By dropping a game to a team they had no business losing to, the Cougars burned voters who had elevated them to No. 12 in the Associated Press poll. If they win out, they’ll probably be back in the top 25. But any hopes of the Cougars being in a BCS game or being discussed as upset picks on ESPN are long gone. I suspect they’ll still play in a meaningful bowl game in December, but any reports of the Cougars being back were largely exaggerated.

Judge Phillipe: Go for the jugular next time

I don’t know which was weaker: Saturday’s performance by the Cougars, or the sad sack of responses I received to a question with a litany of possible answers.

Sure the defense was the ugliest pimple to be popped by the Miners, but there’s also an elephant in the room to which everyone is pretending to be oblivious. Come on, he’s right there leaving peanut shells all over the room.

I, of course, am talking about the lack of killer instinct and sense of urgency that began with the offense. The Cougars had two drives come to crashing halts inside the Miners’ 10-yard line, netting them zero points. Good teams finish what they start and don’t let subpar opponents stick around and build confidence.

Whether it stemmed from a lack of preparation or was simply inexperience rearing its ugly head, the Cougars were not ready to take the next step toward justifying their newfound ranking and respect.

The Cougars have plenty of holes to fill on defense and doing so should be priority number one, but they may also want to invest in some mental fortitude if they are to take other teams’ best shots.

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