Doctor’s orders: Cougars must treat three ailments
A win is a win, right?
The age-old question from the world of sports is becoming a theme for the 2017 football season with the Cougars again displaying dominance early in games only to narrowly escape with the victory.
Houston is now 3-1 this season following Saturday’s 20-13 win against the Temple Owls, but the Cougars’ healthy appearance doesn’t tell the full story. Ailments in all three phases of the game are preventing football from reaching its full potential, and diagnosing the issues early on will give the team its best chance for survival in the American Athletic Conference standings.
Although a road win is exactly what the doctor ordered in the first conference game of the year for Houston, a narcoleptic offense and ill-advised mistakes will prove to be cancerous if not remedied immediately.
Here are the symptoms the Cougars dealt with over weekend:
Offensive common cold
Each game the Cougars’ have played this season has consisted of spurts of offensive efficiency only to go completely cold when it matters most.
Head coach Major Applewhite attempted to self-medicate the problem by replacing former starting quarterback Kyle Allen with senior Kyle Postma. The switch had the Houston offense up and running for the first three quarters, but the symptoms of game’s past returned without warning.
“I want whoever’s playing the best to play,” Applewhite said. “There’s nothing personal involved with it. I want production with every position, and I want it deep. It’s a long season, and you’re seeing that some guys have to step up. Regardless of what position it is, we want the best players to produce, and we want the best players on the field.”
A 9-yard TD strike to senior wide receiver Linell Bonner gave Postma and the Cougars a 20-0 lead with 11 minutes and 34 seconds left in the third quarter. As many were likely flipping channels to find a more competitive game on television, Houston found themselves struggling to hold on to the lead and unable to move the ball downfield.
The Cougars failed to score again and accumulated just 27 yards of offense in the scoreless fourth quarter. With three scoreless fourth quarters in the first four games, Houston must improve its immunity to the all too common cold.
Although this is completely preventable, countless football games have been lost after contracting this horrible disease. Even vast knowledge and robust research on chronic penalty-ism could not inhibit it from spreading over the weekend as awareness proved to not be enough in Philadelphia.
“Commit penalties on special teams, we find guys to come in for you,” Applewhite said. “Nobody is entitled to playing time. We’ve got to earn it as coaches, and we’ve got to earn it as players. It’s not a harder stance than anyone else we’ve had as a coach. If you do good things on the field, you play.”
Saturday’s outbreak proved to be uncharacteristically aggressive with the Cougars being tagged for two penalties on the opening kick, then a third just five plays later.
Whether on the offensive line, a quarterback or any other position, Applewhite said that added emphasis will be placed on eliminating yellow flags across the roster.
“As long as you are producing, taking care of the football, moving the football, and your eyes are in the right place, then you are going to play,” Applewhite said. “That’s what we’re going to do at the quarterback position. Same thing if you’re a right guard. If you are continuing to keep your guy off the running back and the quarterback, while not committing penalties, then you are going to continue to play.”
A season-high 12 penalties cost the Cougars 108 yards and played a pivotal role in having to punt six times. Houston has been flagged 30 times in 2017, which places them in the middle-of-the-pack at No. 71 for fewest penalties among the 130 FBS teams.
The symptoms of chronic penalty-ism are mild at the moment but can give way to a slew of other illnesses if left untreated.
Early-onset point deficiency
Score early, score often.
An adage as old as medicine itself, this loss prevention measure has been the No. 1 prescribed remedy for early-onset point deficiency since 1869 when cases first began to appear. Occurrences of this crippling disease are currently at historic lows, with offenses around the nation scoring at unprecedented rates.
Patients typically report noticing signs when opening-drive scores become less frequent or even obsolete. Statistics show that opening-drive scores apply pressure to the opponent and can play a key role in preventing losses.
Unfortunately, the Cougars have yet to find points on their opening drives this season, and concern is beginning to creep in.
Effects of the deficiency can be minimized by scoring first, even if not on the first drive. The Cougars have posted the first score in three of four games in 2017 and are 3-0 when doing so. Houston’s loss to Texas Tech marks the lone time it trailed to begin a contest — a testament to the feat’s importance.
Durations of EOPD cases vary from team to team but can be cured at any time with a few tweaks. Doctors recommend adjustments to planning, personnel and play-calling to remove predictability that can form after extensive film has been watched by the opponent.
The Cougars look to return to full health when they welcome the SMU Mustangs to TDECU Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday.