Commentary: UH football opener disappoints in multiple aspects
Moments that combine the big stage with the pomp and circumstance of a stadium opening don’t often happen in college football — especially at programs like UH.
For the Cougars, who have bounced between national prominence, mediocrity and even irrelevancy during the past decade, the opening of TDECU Stadium was supposed to be a crowning event.
Instead, the Cougars laid an egg in front of their largest ever on-campus crowd, including more than 10,000 students as well as a national television audience.
UTSA defeated UH 27-7 in the inaugural game at TDECU Stadium on Friday.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat things; it’s a very disappointing start to our season,” said head coach Tony Levine.
The Roadrunners’ winning formula was simple — they controlled the line of scrimmage, ran the football and won the turnover battle.
Sophomore quarterback John O’Korn tossed four interceptions, the Cougars lost two fumbles and turned the ball over on downs twice. A team that led the nation in turnover margin last season lost the battle 6-1 against UTSA.
The Cougars didn’t score a point until there were less than two minutes left in the game and narrowly avoided their first shutout since a 48-0 loss to Texas in 2000.
“The turnovers were big. I felt that their defensive line and defense deserve a lot of credit; they controlled the line of scrimmage, and they took away our running game. We were playing from behind pretty early in the game, and we became one-dimensional, never got into a rhythm and I think there’s no more to be said about that,” Levine said.
The defense made some plays, but couldn’t overcome the short fields provided by turnovers and the length of time spent on the field. For three quarters, UH corralled UTSA’s short passing game and slowed the running game, but it wasn’t enough.
“I think we are a great team, (but) we had some miscues. It makes it harder to win. We have to learn from our mistakes and bounce back from them,” said senior defensive end Joey Mbu.
UH’s loss alone was not disappointing. UTSA is a talented veteran team expected to be a Conference USA contender.
But it was poor performance for a program that has struggled in money moments during the past half-decade.
In 2011 it was a 49-28 loss to Southern Miss in the C-USA title game that would have thrust UH into a BCS game. In 2012, with electricity in Robertson Stadium surrounding the Cougars after a 13-1 season, it was a loss to Texas State in its first game as an FBS school. In 2013, despite a turnaround from 5-7 in 2012, UH couldn’t finish games against good teams and lost to arguably the five best teams on its schedule.
But Friday’s loss was the most disappointing for its off-the-field significance — UH lost more than a football game.
Though the tailgating, turnout and atmosphere were great, TDECU Stadium’s opening will always be tied to a drubbing.
It was a lost chance for UH to elevate its profile. Located in the press box were affiliates from Sports Illustrated, ESPN, CBS Sports and every major local media outlet. Instead of discussing a win in a beautiful new stadium, everyone is talking about an ugly loss in a beautiful new stadium or not mentioning UH at all.
It was a lost chance to invigorate the fan base. Folks in the Bayou City only support a winner, unless you’re the Houston Texans or a high school football team. So retaining the casual UH fan could be tough.
The momentum gained from an 8-5 season where the Cougars had one of the best defensive turnarounds in the nation and a young quarterback that set freshman records was halted.
From a football perspective, though, the Cougars still have a chance to bounce back. The team has 11 games including the entire conference season to fulfill the promise that was expected by fans, media, coaches and players before the games began.
The Cougars have a veteran defense adept at creating turnover to go along with a talented quarterback and group of skill position players.
But, as UTSA proved at TDECU Stadium, games aren’t won on paper.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said UH lost the turnover battle 5-1. The Cougars lost the turnover battle 6-1.