The UH/AAC Report

Houston drops final game of the season; Bowl predictions and coaching changes

Houston ends their 2018 season at 8-4. Houston Cougar Football Facebook

Memphis 52, Houston 31

QB Clayton Tune made his debut start for the Cougars in the Liberty Bowl after D’Eriq King suffered a torn meniscus in the previous week. The true freshman QB had a decent showing, where he threw for 256 yards and had 3 TDs.

In the opening drive, Tune led the UH offense down the field and threw a 33-yard strike to WR Terry Mark. Things began to become increasingly difficult for the freshman QB as the game progressed. After his hot start, Tune threw at least four inaccurate passes that could have been easily picked off. Much of the first half saw a tightly contested battle between both teams. Ed Oliver made his first start in a month, and was doing a good job in stopping the second best rush attack in the nation. The Cougar defense had two key interceptions, one on a pick six and one at the goal line, that kept the game competitive and entertaining. Things were going as well as you’d hope for Houston, considering they had a makeshift offense and depleted defense due to all the injuries that occurred throughout the season. The first half ended in 21-17 Houston, but it was only a matter of time until Memphis’ three headed monster in RBs Darrell Henderson, Patrick Taylor, and Tony Pollard got going.

The second half was all Memphis, especially in the fourth quarter where they scored 21 unanswered points. UH Head Coach Major Applewhite pulled Ed Oliver from the field and sat him after halftime for precautionary measures from his lingering knee injury. Memphis completely took advantage and began running the ball relentlessly. Henderson rushed for 178 yards on 24 carries, Taylor rushed for 128 yards on 19 carries, and Pollard rushed for 83 yards on 11 carries. This enabled QB Brady White to go into game manager mode, where he went 21 for 33, threw 209 yards and had one touchdown. Collectively, Memphis had 601 total yards of which 401 of them were from the run game alone. Memphis ran away with a huge win at home and will play against UCF in the AAC championship game.

Houston ends the 2018 season in disappointment with a record of 8-4, where they lost three of their last four games. You could make the case that they peaked too early, or perhaps injuries caused the defense to be so bad it cost Defensive Coordinator Mark D’ Onofrio’s job. Houston finished 124th in total defense out of 129 schools. Regardless, Houston let go of the opportunity of participating in a New Year Six Bowl, and most importantly, a shot at the AAC Conference championship.

There is much speculation as to who is going to coach what next season in Houston. Offensive Coordinator Kendal Briles was interviewed for the head coaching job at Texas State. He managed to build a powerful offense at UH, where they were fourth in scoring and seventh in total offense in the FBS. A huge loss for the Cougars if he does decide to leave. But let’s jump into a hypothetical. Ex Texas Tech Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury was recently fired. It’s not too far of a stretch that he could be at least considered for the offensive coordinator job at UH if Briles leaves? Remember when they scored 63 points against them in week 3?

Bowl predictions are also fun. Most major networks are predicting Houston to be in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 22. Teams like TCU, Baylor, Duke, Oklahoma St., and Army are the projected contenders for the Cougars. As far as Ed Oliver is concerned, he is on the record of saying that he will play in whatever bowl game they are in. Bowl selections are expected to be announced on Sunday.

UCF 38, South Florida 10

The No. 9 Golden Knights continued their win streak to 24 consecutive games, but it came at a high cost. QB McKenzie Milton suffered a gruesome right knee injury early in the second quarter after being tackled by two defenders. Milton had accounted for 79 touchdowns since the start of last season and is widely considered the heart and soul of UCF. This is an enormous blow for the Golden Knights who will face a tough Memphis team for the AAC Conference championship and a consideration for a New Year’s Six Bowl spot.

Other Notable Results in the AAC

Tulane 29, Navy 28

Cincinnati 56, ECU 6

Temple 57, Connecticut 7

Tulsa 27, SMU 24

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The Astros will have some new rules to adjust to in 2023. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

If you are savvy enough to read next week’s column, you will be doing so with spring training underway in Florida and Arizona. Hip, hip, hooray! Astros pitchers and catchers have their first workout scheduled for next Thursday, with the full squad due early the following week ahead of games starting February 25. Spring training baseball is not meant to be exciting, but the major rules changes that will take effect this season will be in full effect in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues, making spring games more interesting to follow.

The biggest change is the death of infield shifts. As reminder or to get up to speed, the first and second baseman must now always be aligned on the first base side of second while the shortstop and third baseman must both be on the third base side of second. Plus, all infielders must have both feet on the dirt of the infield.

There are legitimate points to be made as to why shifts should be allowed, and also why modifying the rules makes sense. I get the argument that if hitters can’t take advantage of an open side of the infield, shame on them. However, taking advantage of a shift is not as easy as it looks.

The best argument against shifts is that they clearly more penalized left-handed hitters. You think Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez will miss losing some hits on balls smashed on one hop 30 or 40 feet into the outfield only to have a second baseman make the play? If once every other week Tuck or Yordan picks up a hit that the shift would have taken away, over 500 at bats, that’s about a 25 point difference in batting average. Defenses couldn’t shift in the same fashion against right-handed hitters because unless the batter/runner has Martin Maldonado or Albert Pujols level (non)speed, throwing guys out at first from 30 or 40 feet out in left field is not viable.

Welcome the pitch clock. There will be griping from some pitchers and hitters. Suck it up buttercups! Adapt or die. In the minor leagues the pitch clock knocked off 20-25 minutes from the average game length. The average big league game should not take more than three hours. For darn sure a 3-1 or 4-2 game shouldn’t take more than three hours.

With no runners on base a pitcher has 15 seconds from when he gets the ball to start his motion, with runner(s) on base 20 seconds. Failure to comply is an automatic ball. It’s called the pitch clock but batters are on notice too. There is simply no need for batters to be stepping out of the batter’s box to contemplate the meaning of life every pitch or two. Batters not in the box and ready when the clock gets down to eight seconds get an automatic strike. There are several exceptions, such as a batter gets one timeout per plate appearance,

The bases themselves are 20 percent larger. Instead of 15 inches square they are now 18 inches square which serves a couple of purposes. There will be a bit more space for infielders to avoid baserunners at the bags. That’s sensible. We’ve all heard “Baseball is a game of inches.” Legendary General Manager Branch Rickey is credited with coining the phrase. Rickey is also the guy who brought Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues, and the guy who basically invented the farm system.

Anyway, back to game of inches. The larger bases shorten the distance between first and second, and second and third base, by four and a half inches. A massive change it is not, but a meaningful change it is. Think of the close calls on stolen base attempts, or a runner going from first to third on a single. It’s not mastering advanced calculus to get that a shorter distance between bases makes it easier to successfully get to the next one. Anything that increases the value of speed in the game is a good thing.

Base stealing will also be impacted by the new pickoff limitations rule. Say Jose Altuve leads off with a single. Up comes Jeremy Pena. The pitcher gets two “disengagements” during Pena’s at bat. Pickoff attempts and stepping off the rubber both count as “disengagement.” A third disengagement not resulting in a pickoff is an automatic balk. Does Altuve take a huge lead to draw pickoff throws knowing that after two non-pickoffs he gets a big advantage?

Might any unintended consequences result from the rules changes? Let’s find out.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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