How Houston Cougars Can Salvage 2014 Season After Abysmal Loss to UTSA
The University of Houston opened its brand-new stadium the worst way possible last Friday night. The Cougars were shellacked by the University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners in front of the largest home-campus crowd in UH history.
The Cougars were soundly whipped in all facets of the game. Down 14-0 after the first half, UTSA put Houston away on the opening drive of the second and went on to coast to a 27-7 victory at TDECU Stadium.
Despite the devastating loss, Houston fans remain hopeful head coach Tony Levine and the Coogs can work out the kinks—and they were plentiful—before Houston begins American Athletic Conference play in October against defending champion Central Florida.
Here are three critical elements Levine and company must greatly improve.
Production at Quarterback
Houston’s offensive sets weren’t great against UTSA, but they didn’t appear to be terribly abysmal either. Offensive coordinator Travis Bush put the Coogs in multiple sets, used motion, encouraged a fast-paced offense and let sophomore quarterback John O’Korn, who led all true freshmen last season in passing touchdowns, sling the ball all over the place.
But O’Korn played like he didn’t belong on the field in the season opener and gave his team virtually no chance to win the game.
O’Korn completed just 21 of 43 passes on the day and threw four INTs and no touchdowns. In an offense absolutely dependent on quarterback accuracy and good decision-making, O’Korn was simply as bad as he could be.
O’Korn will have to play much better if the Coogs hope to finish above .500 for the season or Levine will have to bench him for someone who can. Former junior college standout Billy Cosh, a senior, is an option, as is sophomore wide receiver Greg Ward, who split time with O’Korn last season in certain offensive sets. The latter has great speed and is an excellent scrambler.
If Houston can’t get better play at the quarterback position, there is no chance for the team to be successful.
The Cougars offensive line must greatly improve over how they performed against UTSA if the Coogs are to salvage their season. O’Korn’s accuracy was bad on Friday night, but his line gave him absolutely no help on the evening in any way, shape or form. O’Korn was sacked four times and hurried on almost every snap. Moreover, the Cougars were unable to get anything going on the ground.
While Houston’s pass-happy offense isn’t predicated on the run, it does require at least some threat of a running game to keep defenses honest. The only thing honest about UTSA’s defense on Friday night was that the unit knew it could rush only three or four and still get to O’Korn on almost every single snap.
Houston’s top two rushers, Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson, were given no running lanes against UTSA. The bull-rushing Farrow finished the game with seven carries for 21 yards. The shifty Jackson could only muster 14 yards on six carries. As a team, Houston managed to run for a total of minus-26 yards on the day.
Execution of the Offense
Beyond the abysmal play of O’Korn and the offensive line, the Cougars just didn’t appear to be in sync as an offensive unit against UTSA. Multiple receivers were unable to come up with grabs on the night, even when it appeared as if they should have. Moreover, the players just seemed to be out of step with one another.
Make no mistake: Much of Houston’s offensive woes were self-induced by O’Korn. He was not accurate and threw into coverage too many times to give his team a chance to win the game. However, there were also cases where it appeared receivers and other offensive teammates just couldn’t get on the same page with him.
That’s on the coaches.
O’Korn made several throws in the game, especially early, that should have been caught. Senior wide receiver Daniel Spencer dropped a sure touchdown in the first half, while Demarcus Ayers and Markeith Ambles just seemed a yard or so away from where they should be at almost all times.
Moreover, Houston fumbled twice to give the team a total of six turnovers on the night.
After an embarrassing 30-13 loss to Texas State two years ago in the season opener, offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt resigned. Levine handed the play-calling duties over to current offensive coordinator Bush for the rest of the year but brought in Oklahoma State's Doug Meachem as offensive coordinator the next year instead of leaving Bush in the position.
When Meachem left Houston for TCU after last season, Levine again handed the reigns over to Bush. After mustering only 206 yards in game one, Levine has to be wondering if he made the right decision. If he didn't, he needs to correct it as soon as possible. If he did, he'll need to find out why his offense looked so inept in game one and take the corrective action to make sure it doesn't happen again.
After all, head coaches can suffer only so many embarrassing opening-day losses to in-state rivals before finding themselves out of a job.