Houston Cougars vs. Rice Owls, 9/2/06

Written by Bob McCormick on 9/05/2006 10:40:00 PM

On this past 3-day Labor Day weekend, I decided I wanted to see the University of Houston Cougar football team's first game of the season. They'd lost their last game last season badly (the Ft. Worth Bowl) to the University of Kansas, but they had a lot of returning players and their schedule looks favorable this year.

Their first game was with the cross-town rivals, Rice University, with kickoff at 8PM. 8PM is later than I would have wanted it - we eventually wound up getting home at 12:30 in the morning because of it. Ms. McCormick and son #1 decided not to go, so it was just son #2 and I.

Rice University is very close to the University of Houston - only 5 miles apart. The game was actually an "away" game, but since Rice is in the city of Houston, it's all fairly relative. The game was played in Rice Stadium. Rice is a private University (about 5000 students total), whereas the University of Houston is a state-supported University (about 7x as much as Rice). Nevertheless, Rice Stadium is much larger than the University of Houston’s Robertson Stadium – Rice Stadium can seat as much as 70000 people and was actually the site of one of the NFL’s Super Bowls (back in '74 I think).

We made it to Rice at about 7:30, which was cutting it close, as we still had to buy tickets. We kinda got caught behind a small crowd of folks rooting for one of the UH players – they looked like family/friends of UH’s Anthony Alridge – but we were able to get around them & hurry up to get to the ticket booth. We bought the tickets at the Southeast gate, and had to contend with a large (relatively speaking) Rice student crowd. To beat that traffic, we walked over to the northeast corner, which was where most of the UH fans were sitting anyway. We got into the stadium just as the National Anthem was played.

We went into the corner area for seats. Rice Stadium used to have old wooden bleachers, but the corner areas were now missing the old wooden bleachers (along with splinters to pick up on your back side!); in fact, there were no bleachers (in the corners) at all. It reminded me of a Roman Coliseum seating configuration. We got there just in time to see UH return the opening kickoff 76 yds & thought we’d have a good night.

Son #2 and I went up to refreshment area for snacks, and came back to see UH’s 1st td. Thought we’d have a good night. We stayed down in the Coliseum/corner & went to Rice side for a bit – long enough for UH’s 2nd td. The night seemed to be getting better.

Son #2 wanted to see the vantage point from the upper deck of Rice Stadium, so we went up into those “nosebleed stands” on the UH side. We stayed up there through ~ middle of 3rd qtr. This seemed to be the time when the wheels came off the UH team. Someone on the UH defense missed their assignment badly at least twice, allowing Rice to get long 80+ runs (seemingly) each time. The UH offense was going nowhere – QB was too tight, badly overthrowing receivers, if we wasn’t being sacked. UH cornerbacks seemed to be giving Rice WRs at least 5 yards off the line of scrimmage, which Rice was taking advantage of (either quick out passes, slant ins, or bootlegs). The frustration showed on 1 UH cornerback (Gulley, I think) who got caught in a cheap penalty near the goal line, setting up Rice. Basically, Rice came up with the next 27 points. Son #2 wanted to go home (he was getting tired), and the way the game was going and with the time of day, I was tempted to oblige. But I wanted to see how the next 2 drives by UH would go before calling it a night. I had dark thoughts about UH coaches’ career chances. I did note that the Rice QB looked like he got hurt in the knee after 1 play.

We got more refreshments & went back to the Coliseum/corner. UH nabbed a fumble from Rice at the 5 yard line (how often does THAT happen?!?). The UH offense couldn’t get to the end zone, so the coach made the right decision by getting a field goal out of the relative position – the 4th quarter hadn’t started and making up 14 points was not out of possibility (the field goal made the score 30-17 Rice). Rice started to look a little more tired.

The UH defense really shut down Rice –coaches must have seen what was going on in the 2nd quarter & made adjustments. That, or the QB’s knee might not be 100%. Whatever – they shut them down. Then, UH put together a good, easy drive (from about the 50 yd line), making it 30-24. Son #2 still wanted to go home, but I win the argument, telling him that UH might be able to pull this one out.

The UH Defense shut down Rice again. I really begin to think the Rice QB’s mobility isn’t the same – the UH defense is able to get to him & either sack him or rush his passes incomplete. UH gets the ball back & drives down, to a 4th & goal at the 8. They try a reverse, and the guy gets in - and whaddya know, it’s Alridge! UH 31, Rice 30! I don’t see his family anymore in the large UH crowd, but they must be happy. But there was still 10:30 left in the game, so there’s way too much time to think this is a done deal.

The UH defense remained stout. The UH offense isn’t setting the world on fire, but the team effectively killed the clock. UH wins by 1 (31-30)!


1. After last year, I didn’t really know how good to gauge this team. Still don’t. Next week (against Tulane) may be a better guide.

2. Rice has new coach, playing scheme, and overall attitude. Their next 3 games will be tough but I predict they will not go 1-10 like they did last year: maybe 3-8 or 4-7. They will sneak up on some people.

3. UH still plays stupid. Too many penalties. Too many missed assignments on defense.

4. UH's Special teams was either great (1st kickoff runback, punting in general, blocked extra point attempt by Rice) or stupid (poor decision making on kickoff receptions later, not knowing when to take a knee in the end zone until towards the end of the game).

5. UH looks like they figured out how to adjust to a team, looked stronger at the end of the game then their opponent did, and came back when down by 16. THESE ARE ALL A BIG STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION, COMPARED TO LAST YEARS TEAM.

6. On paper, UH should have won handily, and after the 1st quarter, it looked like they would. They seemed to let off the gas after going up by 14 in the first quarter, which is far too early. UH needs to play to go up by 30-40 points before letting off of anyone, especially in the 1st quarter. (I blame some of the UH fans for this – everyone remembers the hapless Rice teams of the 70’s and 80’s which is clouding their vision of reality).

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