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Friday, September 29, 2023


Fans: Crawl before you walk

Anyone who thought UH’s football program was ready to compete in a better league than Conference USA received a reality check Saturday.

Central Florida outworked and outcoached the No. 24 Cougars to a 37-32 upset win at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Fla.’

‘It just seemed like they played off the crowd and emotion,’ guard Chris Thompson said. ‘They just flat outplayed us.”

Those who have watched the Cougars (8-2, 4-2 C-USA) this season know that they don’t usually blow out their competition. They’re not good enough to control a game against a worthy opponent from start to finish.

UH had to overcome second-half deficits to defeat Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Mississippi State and Tulsa. The Cougars also needed a last-minute score to upend Southern Miss.’

Therefore, no one should have been surprised when UH was held in check by Central Florida (6-4, 4-2) for the majority of Saturday’s game. This time, however, quarterback Case Keenum and his teammates could not manufacture an improbable comeback.

The Cougars held a 17-3 lead with 6:51 left before halftime, despite committing two turnovers in UCF territory. Then the Knights took over by executing their game plan, which may have been too rough for UH.

‘They turned it into a physical game, and we didn’t respond the way we should have,’ head coach Kevin Sumlin said.’

Instead of playing into the Cougars’ finesse style by attempting to outscore them, UCF dictated the tempo with lengthy scoring drives. The Knights unleashed their will on UH’s defense, scoring 17 points on drives of 15, 10 and 11 plays, respectively.

The Cougars’ offense fell out-of-sync playing against a UCF defense that received enough rest to keep up with their no-huddle style. UH’s lack of success on the ground (46 rushing yards) also played into the Knight’s game plan, as their front seven was free to concentrate on the Cougars’ aerial attack.

Keenum threw for 377 yards, but a decent amount of that yardage came after UH fell behind 37-20. He was ineffective for much of the game because he often faced pressure from the Knights’ aggressive defensive line.

Even though the Cougars were outplayed for most of the game, they only trailed 23-17 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

On the first play of the fourth, James Cleveland dropped what would have been a go-ahead touchdown on a third-and-2 from UCF’s 4-yard-line. After settling for Matt Hogan’s 21-yard field goal, the Cougars’ needed their defense to make a stand.

But when the defense had a chance to get the ball back into Keenum’s hands, UCF’s offense countered.

On their next possession, the Knights converted a third-and-13 before Quincy McDuffie caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brett Hodges on a third-and-11. These missed opportunities allowed UCF to take a 30-20 lead and regain control of the game with only 9:03 remaining.

Despite delivering an underwhelming performance, UH was still competitive. In the end, however, UCF was simply the better team.

This loss does not mean that the Cougars are not having a great season, nor does it mean that fans should ridicule the players, Sumlin or his assistants.

However, Saturday’s defeat, combined with the 58-41 loss at UTEP, does diminish the magnitude of the Cougars’ three wins over BCS schools this season. It proves to fans and recruits that they are far from prepared to take on the ‘big boys’ every week.

Fans of a program that loses two games per year to competition from a second-rate conference should not be boasting about earning slim victories over BCS opponents. Until UH proves that it can dominate C-USA, only a delusional fan would believe that the Cougars are ready to consistently compete in a BCS conference.

Look at Boise State. Do the Broncos struggle to defeat most of the teams in their conference?’

No. Plus, they usually have only one or two close calls each season. That’s exactly why their fans can have a realistic conversation about joining a better conference.’

For now, Cougar fans should worry about winning C-USA, not joining another conference. But they should not hang their heads about Saturday’s loss, because UH can still win the C-USA West if SMU (6-4, 5-1) loses once and the Cougars win out.

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