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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Commentary

UH seeks signature win program has been missing


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With several players returned from last year’s 8-5 season, UH and sophomore quarterback John O’Korn are more than enough equipped to make a serious run at a conference championship — and it starts Thursday night with a grudge match against Central Florida. |  Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

I remember the first time I sat and watched a Houston Cougars football game.

On Sept 29, 2009, Fox Sports televised UH’s 45-35 upset over No. 5 Oklahoma State. The Cougars made clutch plays to complete the fourth-quarter comeback and were nationally ranked after defeating a big-time opponent. Cardiac Coogs!

That team finished the season with four fourth-quarter comebacks. Clutch!

But now, “Cardiac Coogs” and “Clutch” have not been used in recent years. Since 2012, the team is just 3-10 against teams that finished with a winning record, and 1-6 in games that were decided by one possession.

“We’ve made some mistakes in those big-time situations,” said senior receiver Daniel Spencer. “It just comes with patience and trying to be better the next week. We have to learn from our mistakes.”

One of those six losses came last season against defending Fiesta Bowl champion Central Florida in a thriller. Since 2005, UCF has had UH’s number, winning four of the five matchups — each decided by five points or less.

Another crack at it

Thursday’s grudge match on ESPN — UH couldn’t complete last season’s comeback after turning it over on downs from the Knights’ 7-yard line — will be an opportunity for UH to corral a win in its first American Athletic Conference game of the season.

“It would be a big one for us,” said senior offensive linemen Rowdy Harper. “We’re looking forward to it. It’ll be nice, with it being on ESPN, to bring it home.”

Last season’s Cougars finished 8-5 and saw head coach Tony Levine in his second bowl game in three seasons. However, I feel a program that is now 5-10 on national television since 2010 warrants acknowledgment. So I asked Levine:

Has it crossed your mind that it has been a while since the team has had a signature win in front of a large audience?

“Not at all,” he said, looking me straight in the eye, standing up straight with his arms crossed.

I paused, then asked again: In any way? It never registered through your mind?
“Not at all.”

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Five times last season, and 10 since the Tony Levine regime began in 2012, the upper-echelon opponents — like defending Fiesta Bowl champion UCF — have had the Cougars’ number and kept them at arm’s length, where UH is just 3-10 against teams that finished with a winning record.  |  File photo/ Central Florida Future

That’s fair. What do you expect him to stay? I probably would have said the same.

UH will not face conference foe No. 22 East Carolina (3-1) on its schedule, and it should be favored in every game left on it except the regular season finale at Cincinnati (2-1) to make a run toward the conference championship.

Better now than never for UH

UCF (1-2) isn’t ranked and has lost star players quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson to the NFL. That squad finished 12-1 in 2013. Louisville, which finished second in the AAC, moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Cincinnati, which finished third, also lost its starting quarterback.

The Cougars’ defense has played lights out and doesn’t need to depend on forced turnovers to win. It is eighth in the country in yards given up per play (4.27), and its 335 yards allowed per game is the program’s fewest in more than a decade. It lost two starters at cornerback, but juniors William Jackson and Lee Hightower have looked impressive as first-year starters.

The offense returned 94 percent of its offense —  including AAC leading receiver junior Deontay Greenberry, and last year’s freshmen sensation quarterback John O’Korn, and are out just one starter from the skilled position.

But the Cougars are 2-2.

They’re averaging just 386 yards per game (85th nationally), the lowest since 2004. The offense thus far has shown positive signs sparingly but still struggle on 3rd down — converting just 33 percent (110th nationally). Very un-Cougar-like, wouldn’t you say, Spencer?

“We have spots that we could do better in, and we see it from watching the film,” Spencer said.

Let’s take a look

Game 1: the offense landed on its face to UTSA; Game 2: hard to measure against an overwhelmed Grambling State; Game 3: showed sparks at BYU, but only for a quarter; Game 4: played a solid second half vs. UNLV.

My next question to Spencer:

Do you feel most haven’t seen this offense’s full poten—

“We haven’t, we haven’t,” he quickly exclaimed before I could finish saying “potential.”

Well, let’s see it.

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