The UH/AAC Report

Houston receives reality check after their upset loss to SMU; The AAC West is up for grabs

D'Eriq King and his offense struggled against SMU Houston Cougar Football Facebook

SMU 45, Houston 31

Houston traveled up to Dallas as the No. 2 scoring offense in the nation to face an SMU team that was on paper very beatable. But Mustang’s QB Ben Hicks and company had other plans on a night that unexpectedly opened up a closer race for the AAC West division. After suffering their loss on Saturday, Houston only has a one game conference lead in the AAC West sitting at 4-1, while SMU and Tulane are currently tied at 3-2. Losing the division lead was seemingly out of reach for UH a week ago after their explosive victory against USF. But here they are, facing a much needed reality check which will hopefully translate into positive improvements.

Houston QB D’Eriq King and his offense were completely unrecognizable mainly due to the new defensive looks SMU was giving them. The Mustang defense decided to switch up their traditional scheme to one that was fully committed to protecting the air, while surrendering the ground. Their gamble worked. Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles couldn’t seem to draw up an effective run game, causing him to rely on an uncharacteristically inaccurate King on third and long. King went for 11 of 22, 175 passing yards, 54 rushing yards, and 2 TDs; his lowest offensive showing this season.

Star DT Ed Oliver sat out his second game in a row due to a knee injury he suffered at Navy. He was a game time decision, but was sidelined before kickoff because of discomfort. Since Oliver’s absence, UH has allowed 81 points, and for the fourth time this season, Houston has allowed four opposing offenses to gain over 500 total yards.

Houston was down 17 points and was shut out by the end of the first quarter, but after a quick strike TD from King to WR Marquez Stevenson, and a fumble recovery TD scored by the defense, the Coogs came back to cut the difference to only three points in the second quarter. But that was the closest the Cougars would get to a fearless SMU team. Houston continued to attempt to get the run game going while Hicks was going off against the school he de-committed to back in 2014. Hicks went for 28 of 43, had 318 passing yards, and threw four TDs.

The weather was also seemingly going against Houston that night. A lightning delay halted any momentum the Cougars were seemingly gaining and sealed a well-deserved win for SMU. Houston falls to 7-2 for the season and will host Temple for their homecoming game on Saturday at 6 p.m., while SMU closes in on the AAC West division at 4-5 and will face a 1-8 Connecticut team.

Positives do remain. No notable injuries occurred. Stevenson continues to prove that he is one of the best WRs in the AAC. Oliver remains day by day, but should be ready to go this week. And best of all, Houston continues to control its own destiny towards the AAC championship game. 

Negatives also loom. Houston plays a Temple team this week that was just in a shootout with UCF. They also have yet to play a Memphis team that is capable to run the ball all over them. The offensive game plan was also worrisome. It’s interesting to ask ourselves why HC Applewhite and OC Briles were so inclined to keep trying the run game for so long when it was apparent it would never get going? Houston has proved they can make quick, in game, adjustments throughout the season, so why stick to an obviously faulty run game? Lastly, the extent of Oliver’s injury is realistically unknown. The video looks worse that what they are making it seem, but hopefully he’ll be good to go by this weekend.

After allowing only five sacks in the first eight games, King was sacked four times by the Mustangs.

Major Applewhite’s record as Houston’s head coach is 14-8.

Marquez Stevenson has his 5th career 100 yard receiving game.

Memphis 59, ECU 41

Memphis can knock off Houston as the leader of the AAC West. They currently sit at 2-3 in conference play, and are 2 games behind Houston. But after their win in Greenville, NC, it is hard to dismiss the Tigers and their elusive run scheme from contention. QB Brady White went 21 of 30, threw for 362 yards, and had three total TDs. He was accompanied by RB Darrell Henderson who had 21 carries, rushed for 132 yards, and two rushing TDs. WR Damonte Coxie had 10 receptions, 176 receiving yards, and 2 TDs. This Memphis team is capable of putting big numbers on the board, and they proved it in the second half where they scored 35 points which earned them a hard fought win over the Pirates last Saturday. The Tigers improve to 5-4 in the season and will play Tulsa at home. ECU falls to 2-5 and will face Tulane, who upset USF by a huge margin.

UCF 52, Temple 40

Temple and No. 12 UCF got into a typical AAC shootout on Thursday night. The Owls managed to win the first half by scoring 34 points, but the Golden Knights always had an answer and also lit up the scoreboard with 28 points of their own. The key to the game for UCF came in the third quarter, where they managed to shut out Temple after what seemed like an impossible task to do. UCF only allowed the Owls to score six points in the second half, halting an impressive performance by QB Anthony Russo who went 31 of 52, threw for 444 yards, rushed for 46 yards and had five total touchdowns. WR Ryquell Armstead lead Temple in receiving with 7 catches for 142 yards, including two TDs. Much of the offense came from the ground for UCF, where Greg McCrea had 16 carries, 188 rushing yards, and a TD. QB McKenzie Milton went for 17 of 33, threw for 312 yards, rushed for 19 yards, and had four total TDs. The Golden Knights improve to 8-0 on the season and will face Navy at home, while Temple falls to 5-4 and will travel to Houston.

Other Notable Results in the AAC

Cincinnati 42, Navy 0

Tulsa 49, Connecticut 19

Tulane 41, South Florida 15

Stats pulled via UH Cougar Football.

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Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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