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Archive for October, 2009

ElViento: Before getting into this blog, I’d like to encourage each of you to say a prayer, observe a moment of silence, or whatever, for Houston lawyer, philanthropist and namesake of the Cougars’ football field, John O’Quinn, who died this morning in a car accident.

On to football…

The Cougars carry a 12-game winning streak at Robertson Stadium, and a national ranking into their matchup this Saturday with Southern Mississippi. If anybody is going to beat Houston at home the rest of the year, it will probably be the Golden Eagles.

While the absurdly young and inexperienced Cougar D-line has done better than many expected this year, the clear weakness of the team remains the run defense. Houston has allowed just shy of 5.5 yards per carry, and faces a pair of talented USM running backs (Damion Fletcher and Tory Harrison) who have combined to gain just over 5.5 yards per. Southern Miss will run the ball until the Cougars stop it.

The Southern Miss passing game took a hit when it lost starting QB Austin Davis for the year to injury, but in the three games since his departure, the Golden Eagles have fought to a 2-point loss on the road to Louisville, and put up a combined 79 points in dominating wins over Memphis and Tulane. Replacement Martevious Young isn’t a world-beater, but if the Cougars can’t stop the run, he’ll manage the game efficiently enough not to lose it for USM. Young is averaging just 170 yards through the air per start, but has a 3-1 TD-INT ratio, and has broken a 10+ yard carry in each of his starts.

Southern Miss has a number of capable targets for Young when they decide to throw the ball, but job #1 for the Cougar secondary will be containing sophomore Wide Receiver DeAndre Brown. Despite being hampered by a foot injury, and not having yet broken out for a 100-yard game on the year, Brown is USM’s leading receiver on the year, and has three TD catches in his last two games. As I said, Brown hasn’t broken out yet, but he is liable to at any moment. (I will mention this every time I bring Brown up, but if you haven’t already read it, you owe it to yourself to read “The Last Temptation of DeAndre Brown”, a fantastic piece on the unprecedented signing of five-star recruit Brown with non-BCS Southern Miss. You will especially enjoy it if you hate when bigger conference schools poo-poo every accomplishment made by smaller schools.)

Defensively, Kevin Sumlin compares the Golden Eagles to Mississippi State. While the Bulldogs surrendered over 500 total yards to the Cougars, they held Houston to 31 points, the Coogs’ second-lowest point total of the year, and MSU is the most talented defense Houston has faced this year. Eleven different players for USM have recorded a sack on the year, so the Cougar O-line will have to be at its best. Sophomore linebacker Korey Williams wears #42, and is a big-time playmaker on defense. Watch out for him.

As a team, Southern Miss has allowed more than 30 points just twice on the year, and has never surrendered more than 35 points in a game. Opponents have completed 57% of their passes, and run for a paltry 3.3 yards per carry. However, the best analog for Houston that USM has faced this year is Kansas, and in that game, Todd Reesing piled up 331 yards and 3 TD in a win for the Jayhawks, so there is some reason to believe that Southern Miss might be susceptible to the Houston offensive attack.

Some potential X-factors:

  • The Golden Eagles are a little bit on the fumble-prone side of things. They have put the ball on the ground 13 times this year as a team. Cougar opponents have fumbled 17 times this year, and Houston has jumped on an incredible 13 of those. I don’t think Southern Miss can win this game with a negative turnover margin.
  • Houston is one of the least-penalized teams in the nation at just 42 penalty yards per game, while Southern Miss has been a bit more generous, giving up 74 free yards on penalties per game.
  • Both teams have talented kick returners. For Houston, it starts with Tyron Carrier, while Southern Miss has returned a punt (Tracy Lampley) and a kick (Freddie Parham) for a score this year already. It will be a challenge for each squad to keep the return game in check.
  • Southern Miss kicker Justin Estes has connected on 8 straight field goals (including a long of 49 yards) although, like Houston, he has had some trouble with those pesky extra points of late. I don’t see either defense shutting out the opposition, but if they succeed in keeping the other team out of the end zone, Houston will probably lose a kicking battle.

All of this is well and good, but to me, the only question that truly matters is whether or not Houston can slow down the Southern Miss run game. If so, the Golden Eagles will not be able to pass effectively enough, or slow down Houston’s offense enough to win. If not, it’s going to be a long, interesting Halloween afternoon.

What say you, Cougar faithful? How do you feel about this one?

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ElViento: Like the changing of the seasons, or the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, the approach of the UH basketball season leads to a number of predictable questions and arguments from the Cougar faithful.

Let’s try and tackle these questions one-by-one.

Question: Will we have a frontcourt this year?

This year’s Cougar frontcourt might be the deepest, and most physical in the Penders era at Houston. But it sorely lacks experience. The lone big man with Division 1 experience is senior Nick Mosley, a 6’9” center. The Cougars desperately need Mosley to mimic Marcus Cousin of a year ago, and have a breakout senior season. I’m cautiously optimistic that Mosley can do so. Although he has been a backup for the extent of his time at UH, he was effective in limited use last season. Mosley actually grabbed more rebounds and blocked more shots per minute than the starter Cousin. If Mosley can even begin to create his own shot inside, he’ll be a huge piece of the puzzle for the Cougars.

Editor’s note: If the rumor mill tells truth, Mosley is off the team. That’d be a shame, I could have easily seen him contributing this year.

There are four intriguing newcomers to watch at the post positions, as well.

Maurice McNeil was a big get in recruiting this off-season. McNeil will be a junior this year, after spending two years at San Jacinto JC. He has not-overwhelming size at 6’9”, 215, but every indication is that he likes to throw his body around and grab rebounds.

Kendrick Washington was the Louisiana Class 5-A player of the year as a junior in 2008, and followed that up with a 19.4 point, 17.5 rebound per-game performance as a senior. Washington has less than ideal height at 6’7”, but checks in at 270 pounds. It’ll be interesting to find out if he’s in shape enough to handle the college game, especially with off-season shin injuries, but he looks like a keeper.

Kirk Van Slyke will be a freshman for the Cougars this year, after graduating high school in ’08, and spending a year at West Point Prep. Originally from the Woodlands, Van Slyke is primarily an outside shooter on offense, but his high school numbers (17.9 rebounds as a senior) give hope that he can mix it up in the middle on defense. Frankly, I’m okay with the idea of having one big who can stroke it from the outside. Over-reliance on the three-pointer has been a criticism of Tom Penders-led Cougar teams in the past, but it is one that is no longer valid. The Cougars attempted just 10 more three-pointers than their opponents last year, and Kelvin Lewis is the only returning Cougar to have attempted more than 70 shots from beyond the arc a year ago. If Van Slyke can play post defense, he’ll be a step up from the departed Qa’rraan Calhoun.

Kahmell Broughton comes from Kaskaskia JC without a lot of fanfare, or gaudy statistics, but could be a physical presence in the middle coming off the bench.

Question: Should we fire Penders for not getting us to the dance, or applaud him for the undeniable improvement from where we were before we got here?

The numbers have been repeated often, but they are relevant, so here they are again:

In the eight seasons that Houston had been in Conference USA prior to Penders’ arrival, they cracked 10 wins in a season just three times, and had a winning season (either overall, or in Conference play) just once. Their best win total during that stretch, 18, has been matched or eclipsed by Penders in every season he has been at the helm of the Cougar program.

Still, all of the 20-win seasons in the world simply do not make up for not making the NCAA tournament. With top contributors Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis entering their senior seasons, this may be Penders’ last chance. If the Cougars fail to make the dance this year, the Cougar fan base will have turn entirely against him, and I get the feeling that Athletics Director Mack Rhoades will find the cash somewhere to buy out Penders’ contract, and look for someone else who can get us to the tournament.

Maybe Penders is just the analog for Art Briles. Yes, he took us from a bad place to a good place. But maybe it’ll take someone else to get us from the good place to where we truly want to be. We will find out this year.

Question: Whose fault is it that Houston can’t recruit the top-tier high schoolers? Penders? A miniscule fan base? Crummy facilities?

I’ll take a healthy helping of all of the above. If you want to single out any one reason why Houston can’t get the national top 100-type guys, go for it. Just please, please do not compare Penders not recruiting the Houston area to Briles not recruiting the Houston area. The two are not comparable for a number of reasons, most notably the fact that Houston is not nearly the recruiting hotbed in basketball that it is in football. I’ll wait patiently while you lose your mind that I just said that.

Done?

Okay.

Yes, there is a lot of basketball talent in Houston. That’s pretty inevitable when you’re talking about the fourth most-populous city in the country. But when it comes to football, one can build up a very legit mid-major program by out-recruiting the other mid-majors for some of the three-star type players, and nabbing the occasional blue-chipper, ala A.J. Dugat and Terrance Broadway. (Yeah, I know Broadway is from Louisiana, bear with me.) Even if the Cougar football team wasn’t having success at the moment, we’d be headed there the way we’re recruiting. But the talent bed ain’t that deep when you’re talking about hoops. Should we be pushing harder to keep some local kids at home? Probably. Just admit to yourself that the Northeast is to basketball what Houston is to football.

Question: Will Penders finally trust his bench depth enough to run the full-court press we keep hearing rumors about?

It’s a cop-out answer, but maybe. I think the depth is there. You’ve got the Dez WadeZamal Nixon combo at the 1-guard spot. Freshman Nick Haywood has the skill set to play there, or as an undersized two. Incoming JuCo transfer Adam Brown looks legit. A healthy Sean Coleman might earn some minutes. And of course, Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis comprise the best backcourt combo in the conference. I think it comes down to a question of how in love Penders is with AC and Kelvin. Will he avoid the press to save his duo, or allow his guys to wreak havoc up and down the court on defense, and trust the Browns and Haywoods to play significant minutes off the bench? I’m leaning towards the former, but I’m hoping to be proven wrong.

I will throw this out there, just to play Devil’s advocate to myself: Houston had one of the best turnover margins in the country last year, something that has been a hallmark of Cougar teams under Penders. So maybe working harder for even more turnovers isn’t a top priority. Food for thought.

Question: Most importantly of all…will this be the year Houston gets back to the NCAA tournament?

It’s another yearly cliché from the Houston basketball program, but things are set up better this year than they have been in a while for the Cougars to make the dance for the first time since 1992. (And maybe even win their first tournament game in my lifetime.) Their schedule is tough, but not unbeatable. Most importantly, there’s no one dominating, unbeatable force in C-USA. It’s shaping up to look like a three-horse race between Tulsa, Houston, and Memphis. (And I throw the Tigers in there only out of respect, not because they have anyone on their roster who has proven to be worth a darn.) The easiest way to get back in the NCAA tournament is to simply win the conference tourney. (Which, in another blow to Memphis dominance, will NOT be held at the FedEx Forum this year, but in Tulsa.)

If the Cougars win the C-USA tourney, this is all a moot point. But can they get there as an at-large? It’s going to take a healthy dose of consistently beating the people you’re supposed to beat, something that has eluded the Coogs in the recent past. But just for giggles, let’s take a look.

Houston will have 30 regular season games. Throw in, say, three C-USA tournament games. I think staying in single-digit losses (24-9 or so) could net us an at-large berth. How do we do that?

Games we have to be able to pencil in as victories, non-conference: Nicholls State, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Troy, The Citadel, Louisiana Tech, Texas-San Antonio (road)…puts us at 6-0.

We have Oklahoma and San Diego scheduled in the Great Alaska Shootout, plus a third game against a TBD opponent. The field isn’t great apart from the Sooners, so I think we need a 2-1 performance. Puts us at 8-1.

We have three legit non-conference road opponents in Nevada, Iowa State and Western Kentucky, and two potentially tough home games in Mississippi State and TCU. Let’s go 3-2 in those games. Puts us at 11-3.

In conference play, I consider Tulsa and Memphis the contenders, as previously mentioned. We have a home-and-home with Memphis, while we host Tulsa, but do not travel to play them in the regular season. Let’s stay slightly pessimistic, and say we go 1-2 in those games. Puts us at 12-5.

We have to, have to win the rest of our C-USA home games (UTEP, UCF, Marshall, Southern Miss, SMU, Rice.) Puts us at 18-5.

Someone else in C-USA will trip us up on the road, however. Maybe UTEP or UAB, just given that they always have good squads, even though both look fairly gutted from last year. Let’s go conservative again, and say that we go 5-2 on the road against the “other” teams (Rice, ECU, UTEP, UCF, UAB, SMU, Tulane). Puts us at 23-7.

A 2-1 performance in the C-USA tournament would have the Cougars standing 25-8 come Selection Sunday. Does that get us in? It just maybe might.

So there ya go. This entire article was 97% speculation on my part, but what the hell. I needed a basketball fix, and I know some of you do, too. It was good for me, I hope it was good for you, too.

In the coming days and weeks, I’ll try and get up some brief looks at the Cougar opponents, to give us a better idea of what we’re up against.

What say you, Cougar faithful? How do you feel about the upcoming season?

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ElViento: I have mixed reactions about the SMU game from Saturday, but I choose to be encouraged by the way the Cougars performed.

On one hand, it was Houston’s least-impressive offensive performance in a while. They failed to hit a lot of the now-expected benchmarks. The Cougars did not reach 500 yards of total offense for the first time this year, and Case Keenum failed to throw for 300 yards for the first time in a regular season game under Kevin Sumlin.

On the other hand, SMU’s defense is improved, and you have to give them some credit. Houston’s 38 points were just one shy of the highest total allowed by SMU in a game this year. And we have been somewhat spoiled by the Sumlin-Dana Holgorsen era. We should probably be more in awe that the 300-500 plateau is an expectation than we should be upset that the Cougars missed it once.

The Cougars earned a 3-0 advantage in turnovers against an SMU team in the top 25 in the country in turnover margin, and jumped out to a 24-3 halftime lead. After Tyron Carrier’s 92-yard kick return for a TD to open the second half, the game was over. The Cougars ended up running the ball a bunch from there on out, and just kind of cruised to a 38-15 victory. It was only the second decisive loss suffered by the Mustangs on the year. The first was a 39-14 loss at the hands of TCU, but the Horned Frogs didn’t truly put that one away until the fourth quarter.

What this game truly reminded me of was the Coogs’ Armed Forces Bowl victory over Air Force last year. The Cougar offense played less than its best ball, but didn’t make any big mistakes. The passing game didn’t click the way it usually does, with much credit given to the opposing defense, but the run game stepped up big. So did the defense, stopping the opposition from doing what it wanted to. (In this case, throwing the ball, as opposed to dominating with the option run.)

At the end of the day, it may have not been the most entertaining Cougar victory you’ll see this year, but it was a 23-point win over an upset-capable opponent. And you have to be happy about those.

Some other game notes:

  • SMU’s players were paying a lot of attention to the UH student section and Coog Crew before the game. The talented wide receiver duo of Aldrick Robinson and Emmanuel Sanders seemed particularly intent on talking smack with Coog Crew prior to kickoff. Predictably, this ended early, and the students were more than happy to let both know about their drops over the course of the game. Neither receiver eclipsed 50 yards on the game, and Sanders’ total of 47 yards receiving was a season-low.
  • It’s always a frightening proposition to call out opposing players on faking injuries, given the possibility that the injury is legit. But this is the second year in a row that SMU has unquestionably faked some injuries to slow down the Cougar momentum. I’m so tired of seeing Mustang players fall down, grab a hamstring, and be back in the game at full speed two plays later. I would like to see the NCAA crack down on this before college football turns into soccer. If a player has to stop the game for an injury, he should have to sit out at least five or six plays.
  • That said, best wishes to Bo Levi Mitchell, who obviously wasn’t faking his injury.
  • Major props to the Houston defense, which racked up five sacks, and held SMU to an incredible 0-12 on combined third- and fourth-down conversions. The Coogs were 9-16 on converting third down attempts. Along with the turnovers, that’s the difference in the game, right there.
  • Would you believe both Houston and SMU had more runs than pass attempts on Saturday? ‘Tis true.
  • A big salute to Charles Sims. The true freshman running back has proven to be a huge asset catching passes out of the backfield thus far this year, but had a breakout game actually taking handoffs on Saturday. His 105 yards rushing were nearly double his previous high on the year. And all of this came on the heels of a Tulane game in which Sims got just two touches. I’m very impressed the youngster kept his head in the game, and turned in such an impressive performance.
  • Keenum didn’t break 300 yards, but he did throw a TD pass for the 23rd straight game. This puts him just 12 games shy of the all-time Division 1-A record, held by Ty Detmer of BYU. The all-time NCAA record, held by Jimmy Terwilliger of D-II East Stroudsberg, is 39. I’m going to try and put up something about other NCAA records within Keenum’s reach sometime this week.
  • The Cougars are now bowl-eligible with six wins. If the Cougars receive a bowl berth this year (which seems like a shoo-in at this point), it will be the fifth-straight season Houston has competed in the post-season, a first in school history.
  • There is a four-way tie for first-place in Conference USA West, but UTEP remains the only school entirely in control of its own destiny, and their remaining schedule shapes up pretty nicely. I think you can pencil in the Tulane and Rice games as wins for the Miners, which leaves vs. UAB (this weekend), @ SMU (11/14) and vs. Marshall (11/28) as the potential roadblocks. While wins over Houston and Tulane prove that UTEP is a talented team, losses to Buffalo and Memphis show that the Miners are capable of slip-ups. Knock on wood, but I see them losing at least one more game.

Next up for the Cougars, Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles have outscored C-USA weak sisters Memphis and Tulane by a combined score of 79-22 the past two weeks, despite having lost starting QB Austin Davis for the season due to injury. More on the Golden Eagles, and (hopefully, finally, God-willing) some men’s hoops coverage coming this week.

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ElViento: So if you had SMU in the “Who will be the last remaining undefeated team in Conference USA play?” pool, step forward and claim your prize.

Nobody?

That’s what I thought.

The Mustangs have looked less than impressive in non-conference play this year, able to claim only an 8-point victory over Division 1-AA Stephen F. Austin. After June Jones failed to defeat a 1-A opponent in his first year at the helm of the SMU program, the mantra would seem to still be “almost there”, given the overtime losses to Washington State and Navy.

However, conference play has been a different story. In week 2, Jones got the monkey off his back when the Mustangs took a 28-7 lead, and held on for a 2-point victory when they stuffed UAB’s potential game-tying conversion. Then two weeks ago, SMU shocked the Pirates of East Carolina, riding a blocked field goal return for a TD, a pick 6, and a 96-yard TD pass to a 28-21 victory.

Now standing at 3-3, can the Mustangs earn their first bowl berth since before the Death Penalty? It’s going to be an uphill battle, with their three toughest C-USA matchups (at Houston, at Tulsa, vs. UTEP) remaining on the schedule.

It all starts Saturday at Robertson Stadium. And by way of previewing SMU, it all starts with Bo Levi Mitchell. As a true freshman in a pass-happy offense, Mitchell led the NCAA with 23 interceptions thrown last year. In year two of the Bo Levi Experiment, his production has stayed more or less the same. After half a season, Mitchell is on pace to throw 20 interceptions and 24 TD (same as last year), and his yards per attempt has dropped slightly from 7.0 to 6.6. It will be interesting to see how many attempts Mitchell gets on Saturday. After throwing the ball around 149 times in the first three games, Bo Levi has thrown the ball just 108 times in the last three. In the last three games, Mitchell has not eclipsed the 300-yard mark, but also has not thrown an interception in the last two games.

The big shock of the SMU offense this year has been the emergence of Shawnbrey McNeal. The junior has already run for more than twice as many yards (500) and attempts (100) as SMU’s leading rusher of a year ago (190 and 46). McNeal has run the ball at least 13 times every game thus far, something unheard of from SMU a year ago.

The rush defense has improved only slightly (The Mustangs are allowing 4.5 ypc, from 4.9 a year ago), but it’s SMU’s pass defense that has truly improved. The Mustangs are allowing opponents to complete just 53% of their passes, for 6.3 yards per attempt this year, an improvement from 64% and 9.0 yards a year ago. They also have more team interceptions than they had all of last year.

This game scares me a bit, to be honest. The Mustangs have given the Cougars close games each of the last two seasons, and those were both 1-11 SMU squads. This isn’t a great team, but they’re a more talented group than either of the last two years’ teams. If the Cougars don’t show up until the second half like they did against Tulane, this game’s going to get mighty interesting.

Here are the three big questions for Saturday:

  • Can the Cougars slow down McNeal and make SMU’s offense one-dimensional? McNeal has had some decent games, but truly broke out last week against Navy, to the tune of 131 rush yards. If Houston can keep McNeal under four yards per carry, like UAB, Wazzu, TCU and ECU did, I think the Cougar secondary can slow down (not stop, but slow down) SMU’s corps of talented receivers.
  • Can Houston win the turnover battle? The Mustangs have been very opportunistic with turnovers this year, but Houston has done a good job of holding onto the ball. At least keeping the turnover margin even would go a long way towards making this game easier on the nerves of the Cougar faithful.
  • Can SMU slow down the Cougar receiving corps? Nobody’s going to stop the Cougars from throwing the ball, but SMU has looked very good against the pass so far. Then again, they haven’t faced a spread offense of the caliber of Houston, or even Tulsa or UTEP.

What say you, Coogs? How you feel about this one?

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ElViento: Howdy, readers. As has been alluded to, we’ve had something of a personal emergency here at Scott & Holman, but rest assured that we are straightening things out, and we will soon be back to the mediocre, often sarcastic coverage of the Coogs that you have come to expect from us.

Along those lines, I would like to state unequivocally that Houston will not lose on Saturday.

Let me make one thing abundantly clear, Houston fans: Tulane ain’t no UTEP.

  • UTEP had a history of playing the Cougars closer than they should. Tulane does not. The last time that the Green Wave beat the Cougars, it helped send Dana Dimel out the door as Cougar head coach. In the six Cougar victories since, the average margin of victory has been 23 points.
  • UTEP had a recent history of having a successful offense. Tulane does not. In 2008, UTEP scored an average of 32.9 points per game. Tulane scored 16.7. So far this year, the Green Wave have not scored more than 17 points in a game against a Division 1-A team.
  • UTEP has a sizeable homefield advantage. Tulane will probably have fewer fans than Houston at the Superdome on Saturday.
  • UTEP had Houston playing overconfident. Tulane won’t have the same advantage.

Okay, so what does Tulane have going for it? The list basically runs two items deep.

  • Andre Anderson. The Green Wave have a future NFL talent at Running Back. But teams are figuring out how to slow him down, given that Tulane has zero passing game to speak of. Anderson hasn’t broken 100 yards rushing against a 1-A opponent this year in four tries.Yes, Donald Buckram ran all over us. But he had the advantage of a passing game that you have to at least respect, and he was averaging more yards per carry than Anderson even before the Houston game. If the Cougars can find a way to contain the Mississippi State run game (which, apart from a few big runs, they did), they’ll be okay with Anderson. He’ll break a couple big runs, too, but not enough to win the game. After all, Tulane had an NFL-caliber RB in the recent past in Matt Forte, and it didn’t help them then.
  • Jeremy Williams. The senior wide receiver from Baytown has a trio of 100 yard receiving games this year, including the McNeese State game, where he accomplished the amazing feat of being on the receiving end of every single completed Tulane pass. In his last three games, Williams has 24 catches for 383 yards and 3 TDs. For the season, Williams has 40% of Tulane’s receptions, 55% of their receiving yards, and three of their four receiving TDs. However, Houston has already proven they have no problem with one-target pass attacks. Just ask Oklahoma State. Like Anderson, Williams will make some plays, but it will not be enough.

Further reasons for confidence in the Cougars, also in bullet-point format:

  • Tulane has not had to face a pass attack like Houston’s this year. The Green Wave actually have the top-rated pass defense in Conference USA thus far, but that is simply a function of not facing an opponent with the will to throw as much as Houston. Tulsa even went out of character against the Green Wave, running the ball over 2/3 of the time. BYU threw the ball under half of their plays against Tulane, and Max Hall racked up over 300 yards through the air anyway. The “top-ranked” Tulane defense has allowed opponents to complete over 70% of their passes so far. Simply put, Tulane does not have the horses to cover the likes of James Cleveland, Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards. They just don’t.
  • The scariest (or funniest, depending on who you’re a fan of) quotes I’ve seen leading up to this game are the ones coming from Tulane head coach Bob Toledo, talking about blitzing against Houston on Saturday. I sure hope he’s being serious, because if Tulane tries to blitz often, Houston might score 100. That is absolutely the best possible thing that Tulane can do. In the first place, blitzing against a team like Houston just doesn’t work, because the quarterback gets rid of the ball so quickly, and we run so many screen passes. Blitzing plays right into our hands. Secondly, Tulane’s weak defense is particularly weak at linebacker, so when Tulane does run those blitzes, and Case Keenum finds Cleveland on a short dump pass over the middle, JC is going to break a tackle and be deep in the secondary in the blink of an eye. It’s going to be marvelous.
  • This is really just repeating the last bullet, but Tulane’s defensive coordinator actually said the following this week: “When we blitz, it’s to make him throw early.” Oh no, throw early?!? ANYTHING BUT THAT!!! Oh wait, we do that on purpose already. Steve Spanard, I love you. I pray that you are being serious.

This game is going to be fun.

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SarCoog: First off I refuse to believe there’s any connection between me starting this preview format and the Coogs getting obliterated by UTEP. If you happen to believe that… please read elsewhere.

The Bulldogs are an interesting team and now 5 games (with a 2-3 overall record) into the tenure of new coach Dan Mullen I have a slightly better idea of what kind of team they have in Starkville.

1.) What has new coach Dan Mullen brought to the Mississippi State program that the previous regime did not?

  • Mullen comes to MSU after being the offensive coordinator for the Florida Gators under Urban Meyer for 4 years and has 2 BCS championship rings. Prior to Florida he also served as QB coach with Meyer at Utah where the Utes went 13-0 in the 2004 season and tutored former #1 overall pick Alex Smith. Basically the guy knows offense (a weakness of Sylvester Croom and his regime) and is as much of a proven winner as you can find among unproven assistants. He’s trying to implement his spread offense where he can, although Mullen lacks the lean, quick offensive line or the QB to fully implement the scheme. But he does have a ‘bell cow’ senior RB in Anthony Dixon, who’s spearheaded the 22nd ranked rushing attack in college football. Which brings me to my next topic…

Anthony DixonAnthony Dixon

2.) Who is this Anthony Dixon and really how good is this guy?

  • Simply, Dixon is the heart and soul of a Bulldog offense that’s transitioning from a run-first pro style offense to the spread. Currently he has 427 rushing yards (5.0 average) and 3 TD, although it’s worth noting  that he sat out the season opener against Jackson State. I watched some of last Saturdays Georgia Tech/MSU game and was not only impressed with this guys as a runner, but he also takes pressure off other players on the offense. I remember on one early play Saturday, QB Tyson Lee faked a handoff to Dixon and the defense bit on the fake, allowing Lee to break off a 20 yard run. Currently, his 106.75 yards/game average is 15th nationally and 2nd in the SEC (behind Auburn RB Ben Tate). So basically the Houston Cougars and their 113th ranked rush defense have their work cut out for them.

3.) What about the rest of the MSU offense… and how about we talk about their defense?

  • Everything starts with “big dogs” up front and the system that Coach Mullen wants to run isn’t 100% suited to the current linemen on the MSU roster. But obviously this unit has done a superb job on run blocking and opening up holes for Dixon and company. In pass blocking they’ve also only allowed 4 total sacks on the season and these guys have faced good defenses like Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, LSU and Auburn so far. Senior QB Tyson Lee has done a serviceable job as the signal caller, but is only averaging 133.4 passing yards/game and has only 3 passing TD through 5 games played. True freshman Chad Bumphis is the top receiver on this team in terms of yardage coming off a 6 reception, 123 yard performance against Georgia Tech.  Without a doubt the Bulldogs are a ‘run first’ football team. The one weakness they have is turnovers, as they have 6 interceptions and 8 fumbles lost (12 total) on the ’09 season.
  • Now to the defense: the Bulldogs have faced a tough slate of teams. With the exception of Vandy, the defense has given up 30+ points against all Division 1-FBS teams they’ve faced. However the caveat is that those 3 teams are: LSU, Georgia Tech and Auburn. All of those are difficult and unique offenses that quite frankly would carve up most every team on this level. Junior LB K.J. Wright leads the team in solo (21) and total tackles (38) so far and is 2nd in tackles for loss (3.5). The only guy who’s proven to be a serious pass rushing threat is junior DT Pernell McPhee who has a team high 5.0 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. But most important the MSU defensive coordinator is famous mustache-wearer Carl Torbush who is best known for his epic failure as the DC at Texas A&M.

4.) What kind of interesting facts do you have about MSU football?

  • The Bulldogs home field: Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field, is the 2nd oldest on-campus stadium among all current Division 1-FBS programs. It began its usage in 1914 and was originally known as New Athletic Field, before in 1920 it was renamed in honor of former MSU football player and Olympian: Don Magruder Scott. Most recently in 2000 it was expanded to a 55,082 capacity.
  • Putting the ball in the air has never been the forte of the Bulldogs, as I’ve found out. Since MSU started playing football in 1895 they’ve only had 4 seasons where a QB has finished with over 2,000 passing yards and their single-season passing yard record is 2,422 yards by Dave Marler in 1978. Consider Cougar fans: that record number is less than half of Case Keenum‘s 5,020 yard single-season total in ’08.
  • If you think you as a Cougar fan have been through a decade of futility… try being a Bulldog fan during this decade. Since an 8-4 finish and Independence Bowl win in 2000 the Bulldogs have only won more than 4 games once (an ’07 8-5 finish and Liberty Bowl win). While Dan Mullen only has one year to redeem this rough decade, I think he’ll lead the ‘Dogs to at least 4 wins in this season.

5.) As a Cougar fan, why the hell should I not hide the children and pretend there isn’t a game against MSU this coming Saturday?

  • Because you’re a Houston Cougar fan damnit and if you wanted “easy”… then you really picked the wrong team of allegiance. Also, under Kevin Sumlin this team has come back from clunker games to take care of business. Last year after a 56-42 shelacking at the hands of the Rice Owls, the Coogs went on to beat Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. In ’08 they also had poor performances against Colorado State and Marshall that were followed in each case by a Cougar win. Am I reaching? Yes, but damnit I want to try optimism for once in my life. I believe Dixon and MSU present loads of difficult matchups, but… was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! Okay, Animal House references aside I do think this UH team has a fair chance of winning this ball game and I’ll be there in Starkville on Saturday bright and early!

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ElViento: The Houston Cougar volleyball team won on Saturday night. I don’t know if any other Cougar team had a game scheduled, and evidently neither did the Cougar football team.

The gamut of emotions running through the Cougar faithful right now is wide:

Shock.

Horror.

Disappointment.

Embarrassment.

Heartbreak.

What happened? To put it simply, UTEP wanted it more than us. Their offense wanted it more than our defense. Their defense wanted it more than our offense. Their special teams wanted it more. Hell, their coaching staff wanted it way more than ours. If I have to watch the Cougars throw a jump ball down field on third and short again, I will lose my mind.

What now? Go ahead and take the night to be pissed off, Cougars. Same as a big win, you get one night to think about it, then you turn to the new task at hand.

What happens now is we find out who the bandwagon fans were, and who the true fans are.

Which are you?

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