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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There's a lot that doesn't add up to the headline "The Rock Buys XFL for $15 Million."
First, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson certainly is the headliner, the pitchman, the slot machine that Vegas casinos put by the front door, but he's just part of a group that, pending approval by a bankruptcy judge, is purchasing the snake-bit football league created and paid for by pro wrestling mastermind Vince McMahon.
Joining The Rock in the ownership combine are his ex-wife and still business partner Dany Garcia and an investment group called RedBird Capital Partners. RedBird reportedly is sitting on $4 billion of funds, so $15 million is mere peanuts - which the XFL won't be able to sell at concession stands if the league plays without fans in 2021.
Absolutely $15 million is big bucks, and spending it on the XFL 3.0 could involve lots of whammies. Like lawsuits, bill collectors, a cursed brand and suspicious fans who've been burnt two times by the league.
First, why would anybody buy a proven flop? The original XFL played its one and only season in 2001. Faced with dwindling TV ratings and uncertainty that networks were interested in a second season, McMahon pulled the plug. McMahon brought back the XFL 2.0 this year. Just like 2001, the first week's TV ratings were good but quickly spiraled downward. XFL 2.0 played only five games in 2020 before suspending its season in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, In April, despite pouring $200 million of his own money into the XFL, McMahon announced the league was done. The XFL 2.0 declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy and terminated all of its employees, including commissioner Oliver Luck, who is now suing McMahon for wrongful termination.
Let the record show that the Houston Roughnecks were undefeated with a 5-0 record, in sole first place of the XFL's western division. The Roughnecks' future is up in the air, but they were the league's glamour team and could be rarin' to go in 2021. But like everything else with the XFL, there's a big "if" attached. For example, the University of Houston wants a big chunk of the XFL sale, $800,000, for hosting Roughnecks games last season. Also, the players were officially terminated, the quarterback has signed with the NFL. It may be difficult to get the band back together.
The XFL brand's baggage certainly wouldn't fit in an overhead compartment. If The Rock, Dany Garcia and RedBird wanted to start an alternative football league, wouldn't it be easier, for sure cheaper, to start their own league, with a new name, from scratch?
I'm also not buying that The Rock is buying the XFL. Celebrities, and The Rock is the world's highest-paid actor ($87 million last year), usually don't put up their own money for companies that brandish their name for publicity. In 1989, tennis legend Bjorn Borg declared personal bankruptcy after his sporting goods stores closed. Financial commentators were shocked to discover that Borg had invested his own money in the venture. Baseball great Pete Rose was smarter. In 2016, Rose was in Houston to announce the first of what would be many Pete Rose Hit King Academies across America, where kids would learn to play the game "the right way," like Rose did. There was a whispered doubt that anything involving Rose would be "the right way," and the facility closed a year later. Investors lost their money, but Rose came out smelling like his last name. He was paid up front for use of his name. He invested nothing.
Garcia, announcing the purchase of the XFL, told ESPN that she contacted The Rock right after McMahon threw his league into bankruptcy. She told her ex-husband, "We have something really important to do." She added, "We do sports. We do entertainment. If you look at our resumes, everything points to this moment and opportunity for us, to work with these athletes and build this brand."
So if we smell what The Rock is cooking, this could be the strategy behind buying the XFL. We always hear, for a sports league to survive, it must have rock-solid TV exposure. Who better to get networks and cable onboard with lucrative, long-term deals? The Rock is the most bankable movie star going. He owns and hosts the Titan Games on NBC. He has relationships with FOX and USA cable. While networks may have cast a wary eye on McMahon and his crazy pro wrestling schemes, everybody loves and respects The Rock. TV will want to get in The Rock business.
The almighty NFL has withstood the challenge of alternative leagues for the past 50 years. They come, they fail, they vanish. But what if the NFL is thinking, we could use a minor league like baseball, or a developmental league like basketball? Instead of draft picks and free agents sitting on the bench, or biding time on practice rosters for one or two seasons, wouldn't they gain more from actual games in an NFL-affiliated rookie league owned by one of the most influential people on the planet?
Is The Rock connected? Uh, yeah. In 2011, he was first to let the world know that Osama bin Laden was captured and killed. He tweeted, "Just got word that will shock the world - Land of the free ... home of the brave, DAMN PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN." He wouldn't reveal who gave him the "word," but he later told Movietone, "I got friends in high places. The individuals who were there were proud to let me know. I knew the president was going to give his speech."
As for his own political ambitions, unlike his wrestling career, The Rock doesn't pull any punches: "Right now the best way I can impact the world is through entertainment. One day, and that day will come, I can impact the world through politics. The great news is that I am American, therefore I can become president."
President? That's almost as powerful as NFL commissioner.

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