The UH/AAC Report

Houston in control of their own destiny: UCF and USF avoid upset

Ed Oliver ends sack drought. Photo via Houston Cougar Football/Facebook

Houston 42, ECU 20

The Cougars went into Greenville, NC on Saturday still hot from their late game-winning rally vs Tulsa. Houston started with a typical up tempo Kendal Briles opening drive, where QB D’Eriq King threw to WR Courtney Lark for a 38-yard TD. The Cougar defense then held ECU to another three and out and gave the ball back to King, where he led his offense to the end zone after another long drive, and scored via rushing TD from the Pirate 8-yard line with 8 minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Houston defense showed up even bigger this game and continue to show that they are peaking at the right time. LB Emeke Egbule intercepted a batted pass from ECU’s QB Reid Herring, which was converted into another TD throw from King and resulted in the Cougars leading 21-3 at the half.

ECU drove to the Houston 16 on their second half opening possession, but were halted by the Cougar defense yet again, and were forced to kick a field goal cutting the difference to 21-6. Houston’s Heisman candidate Ed Oliver finally ended his 2018 sack drought in a pivotal manner by forcing ECU to fumble the football in their own territory, only to be picked up by Egbule and run in for a defensive touchdown, which resulted in a 28-6 lead with 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter. The offense continued to pile on with two more touchdowns, one being a flashy trick play passing TD from QB Bryson Smith to WR Keith Korbin, leading the Cougars to a score of 42-6 with 11 minutes left in the game. Much of the fourth quarter saw the second string Houston defense, which allowed ECU to score 14 points in garbage time.

The Houston defense yet again proves that they are able to force turnovers in the right moments. They intercepted the ball three times and forced a fumble. Egbule had another outstanding game, with an INT and fumble recovery for a touchdown. Oliver also had another monster game with five tackles for loss and two sacks. The offense is very effective because of this one overlooked component, the offensive line, who has only allowed one sack and 19 tackles for loss through five games, ranking them fifth nationally. ECU drops to 2-4 and will play the 19-0 UCF Golden Knights. Houston improves to 5-1 and travels to Annapolis, MD this week to face a 2-4 Navy team. UH is now in control of their own destiny and keep their AAC championship title hopes alive.

Houston is ranked second in the nation in total offense with 582 yards per game.

Ed Oliver leads all defensive linemen in the nation with 8 tackles per game, despite being double and triple teamed.

King went 13 of 23, threw for 209 passing yards, and had three total TDs.

UCF 31, Memphis 30

Two of the most compelling offenses in the AAC went at it in rainy Memphis on Saturday, both who possess Heisman hopefuls in Tigers’ RB Darrell Henderson, and the No. 10 ranked Golden Knights’ QB McKenzie Milton. This game had upset written all over it from the beginning. The Memphis offense dominated UCF throughout the first half by scoring 31 points, against UCF’s 17. But the UCF defense adjusted so well, that they shut out the Memphis explosive offense in the entire second half. McKenzie Milton displayed his Heisman quality athleticism as he went airborne for what was the game winning TD, finishing a 14-point comeback with 12 minutes left in the clock. Do not be fooled, much of this game was attributed to the rain and its impacts on the passing game, where UCF went 2 for 12 in third down efficiency. Memphis is a tough opponent, especially at home and with a workhorse like Henderson, who finished with 31 carries, 199 rushing yards, and 1 TD. They even had a valiant effort in attempting a comeback to try and set up a game winning field goal, but the Tigers ran out of time as the final catch wasn’t taken out of bounds to stop the clock.  In the end, Milton came through for the Golden Knights by going 17 of 29, with 296 passing yards, and 1 TD, leading his team to an unbeaten 19-0 streak. Memphis falls to 4-3 on the season and will face Missouri next. While UCF will head to Greenville, NC and face a not so impressive ECU team.

USF 25, Tulsa 24

No. 23 USF climbed in the rankings two spots after their close win in Oklahoma. The Bulls uncharacteristically struggled offensively vs Tulsa. Golden Hurricane QB Seth Boomer had an awful day vs the USF defense, where he went 6 of 21, had 79 passing yards, 0 INT, and 1 TD. USF had difficulty taking advantage of the weak opposing quarterback play until the fourth quarter, where QB Blake Barnett began to set up what would be a clutch comeback win. Barnett took matters in his own hands by driving in two rushing TDs, but failing to convert a game tying 2-point conversion with two minutes left on the clock. USF got the football back with 48 seconds left, where Barnett once again showed how USF is an offense capable of exploding at a moment’s notice. He made a couple of long throws down the field that set up a chip shot, game winning, 22-yard field goal. USF remains perfect and improves to 6-0, while Tulsa continues to lose control in the 4th quarter, dropping to a record of 1-5. USF will play a weak UConn team next.

Other AAC Results

Temple 24, Navy 17

 

 

Teams on BYE week

#20 Cincinnati (Prior rank #25), Tulane, SMU, UConn

Stats available via UH Cougar Football.

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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