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

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

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.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome