FOOTBALL: Primary goal not achieved
Give the Cougars credit for surviving.
They’re 4-1 after completing a brutal non-conference schedule that included Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Mississippi State. They went into hostile environments in Stillwater, Okla. and Starkville, Miss., leaving with convincing wins.
Plus, the Cougars rebounded from a crushing loss to UTEP that knocked them out of the Associated Press top 25 and found themselves back in the rankings at No. 23. They’re probably better than college football analysts and most fans figured they’d be at this point in the season.
Now, comes the hard part: taking control of the Conference USA West Division.
The Cougars are off to a poor start in that quest. Their 0-1 C-USA record places them in the same company as Rice and Tulane when it comes to being winless in league play.
But what’s so hard about winning C-USA, you ask? The Cougars are the league’s best team, right?
At least, on paper they are. But UH is far from flawless.
The defense’s flaws are something that the Cougars will simply have to live with. They understand by now that their defensive line will get pushed around at times, and opponents will continue to dial up run-heavy offensive game plans. They’re going to give up a lot of yards, especially on the ground.
But the defense can help its cause by doing a lot more of the things it did against Mississippi State on Saturday.
The Cougars gave up 490 yards (330 rushing), but they forced four turnovers. They also had two sacks of Bulldogs quarterback Tyson Lee, who threw for only 160 yards.
The Cougars couldn’t stop running back Anthony Dixon (134 rushing yards, two touchdowns) or any other rusher Mississippi State threw in their direction, but they created pressure and disrupted the Bulldogs’ passing attack. That’s something to build on.
‘We were a little beat up, but we fought hard today,’ UH head coach Kevin Sumlin said. ‘We had some guys come in and make big plays. I always tell my guys that you never know when it might be your time, so be ready. They were ready today.’
Meanwhile, the Cougars’ offense continued a troubling trend of red-zone struggles. A blocked 29-yard field goal from Jordan Mannisto and an interception thrown by Case Keenum at the Mississippi State 1-yard line eliminated vital scoring opportunities.
Miscues like these were devastating for the Cougars in their 58-41 loss to UTEP. They were resourceful enough to avoid a similar fate Saturday, but they’ll want to be more efficient in the red zone.
Still, there’s not much rain on the Cougars’ 4-1 start. They’ve earned the ranking and other national recognition. Fans, both regulars and fair-weather, will continue to provide support. Provided the Cougars win at Tulane this weekend, Robertson Stadium will be a lively venue when SMU comes to town Oct. 24.
Saturday’s win against Mississippi State and a return to the AP top 25 was what the Cougars wanted.
Their wish list, however, is far from being fulfilled.’