Despite turnaround, UH still in search of signature victory

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — There was a sobering mood in the post-game press conference.

Sophomore receiver Deontay Greenberry and freshman linebacker Steven Taylor gave short responses and simple sentences as members of the media asked about second-half adjustments, the team’s slow start and head coach Tony Levine’s halftime speech.

The two players, who were both still dressed in full pads, at times held their heads low, showing how hard the team was taking an emotional loss to Vanderbilt in the BBVA Compass Bowl. The Cougars traveled 564 miles to Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., but returned to Houston without a victory. The bigger, stronger Commodores imposed their will during the fourth quarter of a 41-24 win.

“I’m kind of hurting right now,” Greenberry said. “We really needed this W.”

Though UH dug a hole, covered it and then created another one, the team showed signs that will allow them to pick their heads back up when reviewing the film.

The Third Ward defense continued on its opportunistic pace, forcing three turnovers and making plays in timely spots. Freshman quarterback John O’Korn flashed his great connection with Greenberry, and junior receiver Markeith Ambles emerged as the threat on the outside that the offense has lacked this season.

Early in the fourth quarter, sophomore safety Adrian McDonald intercepted Vanderbilt quarterback Patton Robinette, giving UH an opportunity to capture the lead with a score — the offense went 3-and-out on the following drive. Senior defensive back Zachary McMillian’s first-half interception took points off the board when the Commodores were nearing field goal position.

O’Korn’s 67-yard touchdown pass to Greenberry, the longest in BBVA Compass Bowl history, tied the game at 24 and put Vanderbilt on the ropes. Greenberry, junior receiver Daniel Spencer and Ambles, who finished with six catches for 105 yards, made big plays in UH’s momentum-swinging third quarter, when it erased a 24-point deficit, but it wasn’t enough.

“Our kids did what people who have been following our program all year have come to notice, which is understand that it’s a three-and-a-half-hour event, a 60-minute football game,” head coach Tony Levine said. “We actually talked at halftime in the locker room about how they scored 24 and we scored zero, and that’s what we could do in the third quarter. Then, at the end of those 15 minutes, it was all tied up.”

Playing against a Southeastern Conference foe also highlighted areas where the Cougars need to improve if they hope to elevate the program. Vanderbilt controlled the trenches on both sides of the ball. A team that averaged 3.5 yards per carry gained 86 rushing yards in the deciding fourth quarter. UH also spotted Vanderbilt 24 points in the first half because of turnovers, poor field position and surrendering big plays to All-American receiver Jordan Matthews.

Matthews, the game’s Most Valuable Player, scored two 50-yard touchdowns in the first half and dominated the UH secondary. He finished with 143 yards on five catches, all in the first half.

Controlling the line of scrimmage has been a problem for the Cougars, who are smaller than most of their conference opponents, and Vanderbilt was no different. The Commodores got pressure on O’Korn and were able to successfully run the football when they needed to score.

“Teams figure we are a smaller team, so they try to pound the ball on us,” Taylor said.

UH is still searching for a signature victory. This season, the Cougars (8-5, 5-3) didn’t defeat a ranked team, but came close against then-No. 19 Louisville and BCS Bowl winner UCF. UH’s best win is arguably against Conference USA champion Rice.

The future could be bright for the Cougars, who return 17 starters. American Athletic Conference contender Louisville is moving to the Atlantic Coastal Conference, and UCF is losing its quarterback to the NFL. With a new stadium on the way and a talented veteran roster moving forward, the Cougars have the makings of a conference contender.

However, close losses won’t be viewed as moral victories next season.

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  • Many college athletes cannot read. Especially football and basketball players.
    Universities are turning into a joke. Illiterate jocks should play small league sports instead of go to college, which proves universities have bigger priorities than education(I’m definitely not talking about campus safety)
    From CNN:
    As a graduate student at UNC-Greensboro, Willingham researched the
    reading levels of 183 UNC-Chapel Hill athletes who played football or
    basketball from 2004 to 2012. She found that 60% read between fourth-
    and eighth-grade levels. Between 8% and 10% read below a third-grade

    Its probably even worse at UH. Some football players probably have a hard time reading Dr. Seuss.

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