NCAA

Sugar Bowl Preview: Texas vs Georgia

Despite having just lost one of the top quarterbacks in the last recruiting cycle, Georgia is now preparing to take on the Texas Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl. Both teams are on the rise, and both must be disappointed with the way their most recent games turned out. Georgia lost to Alabama in the SEC conference championship, while Texas lost against Oklahoma in a rematch for the Big 12 championship.

Texas

Expectations were low for Texas this year; reaching the Sugar Bowl at all makes the season a success. This is the Longhorns’ second year under Tom Herman and the second season since their infamous loss to Kansas. Many publications questioned whether they could make a bowl game at all after losing so much talent on the defense last year (such as Holton Hill, Poona ford, Malik Jefferson and DeShawn Elliot). Instead they gained a top-five recruiting class and used it to get hard-fought wins throughout the season, ultimately reaching the Big 12 championship game. A win in the Sugar Bowl would mark Texas’s first 10-win season in almost 10 years, with the most recent in 2009.

Texas has the talent to compete with a Georgia team. This might be the last game Texas fields the dynamic duo of Collin Johnson and Lil’ Jordan Humphrey, as both are eligible to declare for the draft, having their stock high after great seasons. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brennan Eagles get some playing time this game, as he looks to be the Longhorns’ top wideout next year if both of this year’s starters move to the NFL. My biggest concern for Texas is a lack of experience; they will be starting as many as three true freshmen in their secondary.

Georgia

Georgia comes into this game having just lost their playoff spot to Alabama. The coaches have to make sure the team is motivated after a tough loss and the transfer of their star backup QB. Starter Jake Fromm has gone through some tough times this season, with many fans hoping Justin Fields would take over full time next year. Georgia has the top defense in the SEC and the pride that their conference isn’t just offense (a criticism the SEC constantly makes against the big 12). They will face off against a Texas QB who doesn’t turn the ball over, but Georgia won’t have a problem putting up points. Their star wideout Riley Ridley and the running backs D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield are dynamic playmakers. Georgia runs the ball 41 times a game, which should get them the win.

Final predictions

While I hope Texas wins, I’m also not going to be biased in my work. Everything points to Georgia taking out their anger at missing the playoffs on the Longhorns. Sam Ellinger will have a good game for Texas, committing no turnovers and starting a Heisman campaign for next year, but Georgia’s offense will be a powerhouse. The only way I see the Longhorns winning is if Jake Fromm regresses to his early-season form, and if the Bulldogs start off slow and unmotivated after the loss to Alabama.

The Sugar Bowl kicks off January 1st at 7:45 p.m. inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Follow live game coverage on my Twitter account: @RickeyGirouard.

When a Win Feels Like a Loss

The University of Houston football team had one of its biggest wins of the year last night, but you wouldn’t think that from the sports talk today. D’eriq King was injured and is more than likely done for the year. Once again, King’s injury was not the main topic of discussion about the game. The main topic that everyone wants to speak about is a player that did not even play in the game, the great Ed Oliver.

In case you didn’t see the game last night, Oliver put on a jacket that is reserved for active players only. One of the equipment managers confronted him about wearing it. He pulled away to ignore the manager. It was at this point Coach Applewhite got involved. He told Oliver he had to follow the rules, the same as the rest of the players on the sidelines who tried to wear the jackets. Applewhite grabbed the sleeve of the jacket to start removing it from Oliver, before walking away.

That is when all hell broke out. Oliver, in a fury, started cursing, screaming, and acting like he was going to fight Applewhite to the point that he had to be restrained. He never reemerged from the locker room. Applewhite did his best to downplay the incident in the post-game press conference, but the damage was done. Everyone has taken sides on the issue. So here is mine:

Major Applewhite is no Cougar fan’s favorite coach right now. The SMU and Temple games ruined a shot at a New Year’s Six bowl game. He should still be judged fairly. This moment is one that he had no way out without hurting someone. Applewhite may be frustrated by Oliver not playing. I do not believe he was trying to embarrass Ed.

Applewhite probably shouldn’t have grabbed the jacket. He had to intervene, though. Make no mistake: acting was necessary. It wasn’t about the jacket. Ed Oliver disregarding that equipment manager, made him bigger than the team. A head coach can never allow that to happen. Applewhite had to show the rest of the team that even a player as great as Oliver must follow the rules. In truth, I think this will help Major more than it will hurt him in the long run. Teams like to see that the rules apply to everyone. I think that will help in recruiting and rallying the team.

I also want to make clear that I hold no grudges against Ed Oliver. He has been one of the most amazing players that I have ever had the privilege of watching in Scarlet and White. I believe he wants to be playing right now, and that is part of what made him so upset. I would hold no ill will if Ed doesn’t play for UH again. I hope he does, just for selfish reasons. The main thing from here is that Oliver must realize that if he wants to remain on the team, he is subject to the same rules as everyone else.

No matter what happens from here, I hope Oliver and Applewhite can work things out. I do not want Ed Oliver regretting spending his time at our great university.

Major Cooged It

“Houston sports” is a phrase that can cause fear with everyone in this great city. We have seen our fair share of heartbreak. The rare occasions where it all goes right is what makes sports special. The joy of the Astros’ World Series victory was boosted by the collapse of the 2015 team in the ALDS even with a late four run lead.

The Cougars have their own phrase that has become a moniker for collapsing: it’s “Cooging it.” It’s happened countless times, yet it hurts no less each time. Head Coach Major Applewhite had his first run in with really Cooging it, against SMU in Dallas. He then let Temple stomp all over his defense at Homecoming. Coach Applewhite better figure everything out quick or he will be out of a job.

Coach Applewhite wasn’t the choice for most Cougars. He wasn’t an inspiring hire. He isn’t very fiery. Coming from the likes of Tom Herman to him was hard to take. I was one who said he needed a fair shot. His first season was full of hits and misses. His hire of Kendal Briles to lead the offense was a brilliant one.

Applewhite’s decision to stick with Mark D’Onofrio seems to be a glaring mistake. There has been a rash of injuries. There just hasn’t been enough signs that there is an actual method to playing defense with this team. That omission has cost UH a possible trip to a big bowl game and more. Opportunities like this season do not come around very often.

Cooging it is something I wish I haven’t experienced, but I have. The heartbreak of the 2011 Conference title game is still fresh in my mind. Coming so close to the Sugar Bowl, only to be relegated to playing a post-scandal Penn State. I will also never forget ruining the opening of the brand new TDECU Stadium by losing to the great football power that is the University of Texas at San Antonio. It doesn’t sound bad until you realize it’s not The University of Texas. Luckily, that one game hasn’t defined the wonderful stadium that the football program now calls home. My hope is that we don’t to have to say our hire at Head Coach was an example of Cooging it as well.

The rest of this season should now become a job interview for his future. Applewhite must realize that he must show that he can effectively manage this team out of this funk into a respectable finish. If the administration decides to keep Major, he must show that he can be an effective leader. He will have to replace his defensive coordinator.

Applewhite managed to nail his Offensive Coordinator hire when given a second shot. He can’t get a second chance on every decision, though. I hope he can turn his tenure around. I like Applewhite a lot. I hope he can be the coach we Cougar fans want him to be. More importantly, though, I want to start winning again, and fast. Major Applewhite should too, because he is quickly running out of chances to prove he isn’t another Cooging it mistake.

Houston Cougars – Three Keys Versus Temple

With only three games left in the season, the Houston Cougars look to keep a one-game lead in the American Athletic Conference West Division as they play host to AAC foe Temple this Saturday at 6 p.m. in TDECU Stadium.

Here are the three keys to a victory for the Cougars over Temple. All stats are from American Digital Network, NCAA and the school websites.

Key One: Pass the football

The Cougars enter this week still holding onto the conference’s top passing offense, and they still rank in the top 15 nationally, averaging 315.9 yards per game. Starting quarterback D’Eriq King ranks 13th in the country in passing yards (2,578 yards). King has thrown for 30 touchdowns this season, ranking first in the conference and fourth in the NCAA.

Temple counters with the conference’s best passing defense, only allowing 165.8 yards per contest and a total of 12 touchdowns. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin leads the team in passes intercepted and sits third in the AAC in passes defended. Temple is also tied for third in the American in sacks, having taken down the quarterback 23 times this season.

In the first half of the Cougars’ game against SMU, the Cougars completely abandoned the passing game. King only attempted eight passes, completing two, for 56 yards in the first half of the game. This included a 50-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marquez Stevenson. Houston would ultimately fall 45-31 against SMU with King attempting 22 passes, completing 11, for 175 yards.

The Cougars’ offense has always used the run to set up the pass, but the team seemingly ventured away from its strength. This ultimately cost them the game and put them in a tough position in the conference standings.

Key Two: Keep the home field advantage

The Houston Cougars have only lost five games in 31 contests at TDECU stadium. This includes the 2015 American Athletic Conference Championship where UH took down the Temple Owls 24-13. Since 2014, Houston has averaged 38.3 points per game while in the friendly confines of TDECU stadium, allowing 19.4 points per game to opponents.

This season, the team is a perfect 4-0 at home, averaging 53.25 points per game and giving up a total of 94 points. In their five road games this season, the Cougars have allowed 38.2 points per game and scored an average of 43.2 points per game. UH has rushed for 223 more yards at home than on the road in one less game.

King also thrives when at home. He has completed 66 percent of his passes at TDECU versus only 60 percent when on the road. He also has run for more yards (276) at home than on the road (191).

Key Three: Score when in the red zone

The Cougars have entered the red zone 39 times so far this season and have managed to score points in 34 tries, for an 87 percent clip. Houston has found pay dirt 31 times, with 14 rushing scores and 17 passing touchdowns. The team has turned the ball over twice on downs when in the red zone but has never turned the ball over via an interception or fumble.

Temple currently sits in the top spot in red zone defense, allowing a slim 72 percent scoring rate to opponents. The Owls have limited opponents to only 19 touchdowns, with ten on the ground and nine in the air. The key stat is that they have forced two interceptions and stopped opponents on downs twice.

Points will be crucial in this game as the Cougars take on the conference’s third-best scoring defense. Temple allows a mere 24.3 points per game on the season.

Texas vs. West Virginia Preview

The 15th-ranked (AP) Texas Longhorns welcome the 12th-ranked (AP) West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday in Austin. This is a pivotal Big 12 conference matchup, where the winner will have markedly increased their chances to appear in the conference title game at year’s end. Last year, Texas went up to Morgantown and knocked off a ranked West Virginia team. With the stakes this high and revenge certainly on the mind for WV, this could turn into another classic showdown. Let’s take a look at some keys and factors for this game.

Texas secondary vs West Virginia passing attack

Arguably the most important matchup of this game will be the Texas DBs vs the trio of West Virginia WRs. Led by junior receiver, David Sills, the Mountaineers have three receivers with at least 500 receiving yards. Texas will be tasked with slowing down a passing offense that ranks ninth in the country, averaging 331.3 YPG through the air. If QB Will Grier has time to pick his spots, it could be a long day for UT.

Can Texas keep up?

Much like in the circumstances heading into the Red River Rivalry game, Texas will have to score consistently to win. In that game, they put up 48 points and pulled out a victory. West Virginia scores about 40 points a game (39.9 PPG, 17th in the country), so it’s not far-fetched to say the Longhorns will need another 40 to win on Saturday. Another thing that Texas cannot afford is a slow start. Last week, they got down early to Oklahoma State and couldn’t complete the comeback. Playing at home, the crowd has to be a factor, and the only way that can happen is if the game is competitive.

Kill the clock

One way to keep West Virginia from lighting up the scoreboard: keep them off the field. In order to do that, the running game for Texas has to be on point. RBs Keontay Ingram and Tre Watson, along with QB Sam Ehlinger, will be key. Churning out yards on the ground will wear down the defense later in the game. West Virginia’s rush defense isn’t poor (34th in the country, 132.9 YPG), so it will take a strong game from the offensive line to get the job done. Texas must avoid penalties (especially pre-snap) to keep them from long down distances that will force them into passing situations.

(All stats provided by cfbstats)

2018 Red River Showdown Preview

For the first time since 2012, the annual contest between rivals Oklahoma and Texas is a ranked affair. Texas sits at #19 in the country and are winners of 4 straight games, 2 against ranked opponents. Oklahoma(#7) is undefeated and so far is the class of the Big 12 conference. Who will emerge from the Cotton Bowl wearing the Golden Hat? Let’s take a look at a couple areas that will likely determine the winner.

Keep Kyler Contained

If Texas wants to walk out of Dallas with a victory, they’ll have to limit Kyler Murray’s effectiveness. The junior QB is top 10 in every passing stat you could imagine. Not only that, he’s averaging 6.2 YPC on the ground. The Longhorns will have to play disciplined on defense in order for them to stay in the game. Wide receivers CeeDee Lamb and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown are his main targets through the air.

The Sooners ground game took a huge hit when they lost star RB Rodney Anderson earlier in the year. However Murray and RB Trey Sermon have picked up the slack. It’s a tall task to ask this Texas defense to slow down a team that averages close to 49 points a game. It starts with Murray as he’s the engine that powers their high octane offense.

Consistency on Offense

Defense is the stronger side of this Longhorns team. If they want to win this game though, they’ll have to put points on the board. Coming into this game they’re only averaging 28.8 PPG. Unless their defense is playing lights out, that won’t be enough against a Sooners team who’s capable of scoring on every drive. The running game will be key. RB’s Tre Watson and freshman Keontay Ingram will have to shoulder the load.

Oklahoma’s defense has been less than impressive, giving up 405.2 YPG. Texas will have to run the ball effectively to drain the clock and keep Kyler Murray off the field. QB Sam Elingher will need to limit his mistakes through the air. If he can play poised, they can score on this Oklahoma secondary. Wide Receivers Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson have the size, speed, and skills to exploit the Sooners weak pass coverage.

This is a measuring stick game for Tom Herman and his squad. He’s been tasked with returning the Texas program to national prominence. Winning this game will go a long way into changing the whole “Texas is Back!” opinion. If his team is focused on playing clean football, they have a chance to upset OU. If they aren’t disciplined though, Oreos and Twinkies won’t be the only thing getting fried at the State Fair on Saturday.

(All stats referenced from https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/ and ncaa.com)