Christopher Shelton" />
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Thursday, September 28, 2023


Cougars act like two teams

Daniel Spencer stumbled after catching a pass from David Piland against UAB last week.  | Rebekah Stearns/The Daily Cougar

Daniel Spencer stumbled after catching a pass from David Piland against UAB last week. | Rebekah Stearns/The Daily Cougar

The UH team that showed up in Dallas to face SMU was all too familiar.

It’s the same team that opened the season — amid lofty expectations — with an embarrassing loss to Texas State, the same Cougars that committed 14 penalties against Louisiana Tech and turned the ball over six times against UCLA in a blowout 37-6 defeat all wrapped together.

UH head coach Tony Levine said to the Houston Chronicle the loss was embarrassing.

“You can’t turn the ball over nine times in a game and expect to win. You can’t have selfish and foolish penalties and expect to win,” Levine said. “You can’t have dropped passes and expect to win.”

The Cougars took three steps forward by winning three consecutive games, evening their record by beating Rice, North Texas and UAB. UH took an equal-sized step in the opposite direction in a 72-42 loss to SMU on Thursday.

That team did not seem to exist anymore.

In its three victories, UH was plus six in the turnover margin and won the turnover battle in each of its wins. Redshirt sophomore quarterback David Piland and junior running back Charles Sims found rhythm. The duo combined for more than 500 yards of offense during the winning streak.

The defense was improving each week, surrendering 17.3 points in the past three games. UAB scored only 10 points while the UH starters were in the game, completing a touchdown with 4:38 remaining in the fourth quarter — its final possession of the game.

SMU proved to be a different challenge though.

The Cougars contributed to the 30-point loss with several turnovers and penalties. The Mustangs scored more off the UH turnovers — 44 points — than their margin of victory. UH committed nine penalties for 73 yards.

The Cougars began turning the ball over early. After forcing an SMU three-and-out on its first offensive possession, junior receiver Dewayne Peace fumbled the ensuing punt, giving SMU junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert a short field. He cashed in, hitting senior receiver Darius Johnson on an eight yard out.

Freshman running back Ryan Jackson fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half; junior linebacker Kevin Pope scooped the ball up and scampered 20 yards to the end zone.

The problems holding on to the ball extended past special teams. All three quarterbacks on the roster played in the game and each threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

A head injury to Piland inhibited what UH was able to do early in the second half, and SMU ran away with the game in the third period, where they outscored UH 31-14 and took a commanding 59-28 lead.

Piland’s status for Saturday’s contest against UTEP is unknown.

With or without Piland, it is tough to know who the Cougars are. They could be the squad who lost their first three games or the one who won the next three convincingly.

Time — and future conference matchups — will tell.

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