The UH/AAC Report

Houston plagued with injuries and "Jacket Gate," will now have a shot at the AAC West division title

Houston is set to play Memphis for the AAC West Division title. UH Cougar Football Facebook

Houston 48, Tulane 17

Getting a win against Tulane for the opportunity to compete in the AAC West division title came at high cost for Houston on Thursday night. They depended on Memphis to beat SMU last Friday, since SMU holds the tie breaker advantage over Houston. Memphis delivered, and will now face Houston on Friday for the division championship. But Houston will go into this important game without the leading scoring QB in the FBS in D’Eriq King, and distracted from the incident between Ed Oliver and Head Coach Major Applewhite. Here’s how it all went down.

The Cougar defense made a surprise appearance, forcing The Green Wave to consecutive 3-and-outs to begin the game and played pretty well throughout. Houston struck first offensively about halfway through the first quarter with a 21-yard touchdown run by RB Patrick Carr, who had a career night with 18 carries, 139 rushing yards, and 2 TDs. Tulane quickly answered on their next possession with a TD of their own, but missed the extra point. On the following Houston possession, King added another play to his highlight reel with a 75 yard run but was pushed out of bounds only three yards from the end zone, allowing Carr to easily punch in their second TD of the night. Things were clicking pretty well for Houston at this point; they were running the ball effectively, and were creating turnovers from a capable Tulane offense. The half ended 31-9 Houston, and gave everyone at TDECU stadium a good feeling about rolling into Memphis next week for a chance at the AAC West Division title.

But Houston’s eventful season made a grim turn at the end of the first half.

King handed the ball to his running back on a routine play and fell to the ground on a non-contact injury. He was on pace to compete for the FBS record of 63 touchdowns in a season by a QB, but it was later reported that he had suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee leaving him out for the remainder of the season. An enormous blow for the Cougars.

Shortly after, the event later dubbed “Jacket Gate” took place. Oliver sat his fourth game in a row after injuring his knee at Navy. As the team was headed into the locker room, Applewhite aggressively asked Oliver to take off a jacket that was meant for active players by tugging it off him in the wide open for everyone to see. Oliver confronted Applewhite by yelling at him, all while having to be restrained by his teammates and coaches. It was a terrible look for both Oliver and Applewhite.

Oliver, only months away from millions and projected in the top five 2019 NFL draft picks, now has to explain to every scout and coach that is interested in his capabilities as to what happened that night. You can make the case that Oliver must always follow the rules like every other player. But you can also rebuttal with saying that Oliver isn’t just any other player. With the amount of attention he has brought to UH, his playmaking ability, his loyalty to the city, and his high draft value, a player like Oliver only comes to Houston once every other generation. The last player from Houston to be drafted with this much star power was Heisman trophy winner Andre Ware in 1990, who was picked by the Detroit Lions seventh overall. A UH legend.

It’s easy to speculate that Applewhite has been frustrated with Oliver about his game day availability. This frustration was surely increased in the pregame warm ups, where Oliver was openly jumping around with his team mates and even running routes. Oliver raised many eyebrows, making the severity of his injury even more questionable.

The ultimate loser in “Jacket Gate” is the university. The football program has inched its way to relevancy in the last seven years, slowly landing high caliber recruits from the city that are persuaded to stay local. After this incident, coaches at other schools will use it as anti UH propaganda, convincing potential players that their program respects them unlike Applewhite. As if Houston born talent didn’t have enough players going to power five conference schools already.

Whatever the rule was, it could have been addressed as aggressively as Applewhite wanted to in the privacy of the locker room just a few seconds later. Houston has bigger problems than enforcing a jacket rule on national television, like filling up TDECU stadium to 40,000 people consistently, or beating SMU.

UH went on to blow out Tulane 48-17 in a game that should have elevated Houston into being the team that would potentially beat UCF for the AAC Conference title. But the injury to King and the confrontation between Applewhite and Oliver reigned supreme in the headlines throughout the city and nation.

Houston will now have to go to Memphis on Friday and try to stop the second best RB in the FBS in Darrell Henderson. The Tigers defense looked stout against SMU by stopping their run effectively and creating several turnovers. This is also widely considered a rivalry game between the two programs. Tigers offensive linemen, Tevon Tate, shared his thoughts about UH by saying, “I don’t think they’re anything special. I think it’s a bunch of front running guys who think that they’re the best to ever play football.” The Houston native also added, “That’s what everybody thinks until they play Memphis.”

Inserting Ed Oliver into the defense here would be substantial, but nobody really knows the extent of “Jacket Gate” and his injury better than Applewhite and himself. UH will more than likely go with true freshman Clayton Tune at QB, who was considered the backup QB to King all season. The Carrollton, Texas native only played twice this season, once against TSU in a blowout win, and last week after King hurt his knee. Regardless, The Liberty Bowl kickoff is at 11 a.m. on Friday for the AAC West Division title.

Memphis 28, SMU 18

Houston depended heavily on Memphis to win on the road because of their disastrous loss to SMU three weeks ago. From the very beginning, Memphis’ defense had a mentality that the AAC West division was going to have to go through them. The Tigers threw an interception halfway through the first quarter, but the Tigers’ defense held SMU on a fourth down run attempt in the red zone leaving them with no points and a turnover. This seemed to set the tone for Memphis overall, where just a few minutes later they recovered a fumble from a Mustang fake punt. This turnover was costly, where QB Brady White threw a spectacular TD to WR Joey Magnifico. The second half was explosive, and it always seems to start with RBs Darrell Henderson Patrick Taylor. They both combined for 182 rushing yards and two total TDs. Memphis eliminated SMU from title contention and gave UH a much needed fresh breath of air. The Tigers will host the Cougars in the Liberty bowl  for the AAC West division and a shot at the AAC Conference Championship.

UCF 38, Cincinnati 13

The No. 11 Golden Knights march on to their 23rd victory in a row after they handled No. 24 Cincinnati at home in front of 47, 795 fans. It wasn’t a pretty start for UCF, where QB McKenzie Milton fumbled on the very first play in the end zone only to be recovered by the Bearcats and converted into a defensive TD. Cincinnati’s defense proved to be a force and kept them in much of the game, but the offense couldn’t connect on a couple of field goals as UCF inevitably began to score. Milton slowly took over and went 13 for 25, threw for 268 yards, threw 3 TDs, and rushed for a TD. The UCF defense began to suffocate Cincinnati. They accounted for three sacks, four QB hits, and seven tackles for loss. Trsyten Hill is a player to watch, who had 3 sacks and four tackles for loss all on his own. UCF will continue to defend their unrelenting win streak at USF, while Cincinnati falls to 9-2 and will host ECU.

Other Notable Results in the AAC

Temple 27, USF 17

ECU 55, UConn 21

Navy 37, Tulsa 29

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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