For­mer QB re­cruit Hicks torches Cougars

Stay in Top 25 to end as of­fense, de­fense fall apart on the road

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Joseph Duarte STAFF WRITER joseph.duarte@chron.com twit­ter.com/joseph_­d­uarte

DAL­LAS — Once a Uni­ver­sity of Hous­ton com­mit­ment, Ben Hicks changed his mind late in the re­cruit­ing process when the Cougars made a coach­ing change at the end of the 2014 sea­son.

Hired as the of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor a few weeks later, Ma­jor Applewhite had about 48 hours to make a sales pitch to Hicks. By then, the quar­ter­back was set to move into his dorm room and “al­ready had SMU sheets and ev­ery­thing.”

Hicks put the Cougars to bed early Satur­day night.

Hicks threw for 318 yards and four touch­downs as the Mus­tangs stunned Hous­ton, 45-31, at Ger­ald J. Ford Sta­dium.

“It’s a long bus ride home,” Applewhite, now UH’s head coach, said af­ter the Cougars lost for the third time in the last four trips to Dal­las. “We have to look at our­selves in the mir­ror.”

Just like that, the Cougars’ stay in the na­tional rank­ings — they were No. 17 in the As­so­ci­ated Press and Amway Coaches polls — will be short-lived. Once con­sid­ered the ru­n­away fa­vorite in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence West Divi­sion, UH (7-2, 4-1) now has a onegame lead over SMU (4-5, 3-2) and Tu­lane en­ter­ing the fi­nal three weeks of the reg­u­lar sea­son. Oliver’s in­jury looms large

Be­fore any talk of win­ning the West, how­ever, Satur­day’s puz­zling, if not bizarre, per­for­mance has opened the door to sev­eral ques­tions:

How se­ri­ously in­jured is Ed Oliver’s knee? Af­ter be­ing cleared Satur­day morn­ing, the All-Amer­i­can de­fen­sive tackle “did not feel com­fort­able” with his bruised right knee dur­ing pregame warmups, ac­cord­ing to a school spokesman, and was a late scratch.

“The last thing you want to do is put one of your play­ers out there in a po­si­tion they could rein­jure them­selves,” Applewhite said. “We’ll con­tinue to mon­i­tor him day-to-day. We knew it was go­ing to be a touch-and-go sit­u­a­tion go­ing into the game.”

Do whole­sale changes need to be made on de­fense af­ter the Cougars sur­ren­dered at least 500 yards for the fourth time this sea­son?

Why didn’t the Cougars make the nec­es­sary ad­just­ments when the run­ning game was not work­ing? UH fin­ished with a sea­son­low 365 yards, more than 200 yards fewer than its na­tion-lead­ing aver­age en­ter­ing the game. The point to­tal marked the first time UH failed to reach 40 points this sea­son.

“They played a Tampa 2 (de­fense),” quar­ter­back D’Eriq King said. “They came out with a to­tally dif­fer­ent de­fense than we’ve seen (them play) the last seven weeks.”

By drop­ping an ex­tra de­fender into cov­er­age, the Mus­tangs ba­si­cally in­vited the Cougars to run the ball. UH had only eight pass at­tempts in the first half and 14 through three quar­ters. UH fin­ished with 47 rushes for 190 yards.

“They are ba­si­cally say­ing let your of­fen­sive line and run­ning backs beat us,” Applewhite said. “We’ve got to be able to run the foot­ball in those sit­u­a­tions. There were some times we did, but again not con­sis­tently enough.”

Even Mother Na­ture con­spired against the Cougars, forc­ing a 90minute light­ning de­lay that halted the game with 3:24 left and the Mus­tangs on the doorstep to de­liv­er­ing one fi­nal blow.

By the end of the game, the Cougars were with­out their top two de­fen­sive line­men, as Jer­ard Carter joined Oliver on the side­line with an ap­par­ent foot in­jury. Oliver’s re­place­ment, Aymiel Flem­ing, also suf­fered a foot in­jury. The back­field was also banged up with Mul­bah Car leav­ing with a foot in­jury in the first half and Ter­ence Wil­liams was also hob­bled at the end.

All of that was the recipe for a dis­mal per­for­mance as the Cougars fell be­hind 21 points, 38-17, late in the third quar­ter be­fore mount­ing a late come­back. The Mus­tangs put the fin­ish­ing touches when Ka’Mon Free­man scored on a 8-yard run, send­ing SMU to its third win over UH in the last four meet­ings in Dal­las, a stretch that in­cludes UH coaches Tony Levine, Tom Herman and now Applewhite.

The few times King, the na­tional of­fen­sive player of the week whose named had been men­tioned in Heisman Tro­phy polls, did at­tempt a pass he was un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally off-the-mark.

“Dis­ap­pointed,” King said. “I know I didn’t play well enough for my team to win. At the end of the day I didn’t get the job done.”

Be­hind UH’s high-oc­tane of­fense, King en­tered the game with 39 to­tal touch­downs. He was 11of-22 for 175 yards and two touch­downs and also ran for an­other score.

“The day he had last week was one for the record books,” Applewhite said of King’s seven-touch­down ef­fort against South Florida. “That’s not a typ­i­cal per­for­mance week-in and week-out. He’s played at such a high level. We still have the same amount of con­fi­dence. He’s still the same leader. He’s still the same com­pet­i­tive guy. But when you’re not hav­ing a 400-yard pass­ing, 130-yard rush­ing game, you have to have those around you play well. And we didn’t play well enough around him.”

Mean­while, Hicks was 28-of-43 for 318 yards and four touch­downs. Reg­gie Rober­son and James Proche were tar­geted 28 times, com­bin­ing for 18 catches, 224 yards and two touch­downs. Come­back bid fiz­zles

Be­hind Hicks, the Mus­tangs led 31-14 at half­time. The only sign of life for UH’s of­fense in the first half came on a 50-yard touch­down pass from King to Mar­quez Steven­son, his team-lead­ing ninth of the sea­son. On the en­su­ing pos­ses­sion, SMU’s Xavier Jones lost the ball, which was picked up and re­turned 24 yards for a touch­down by Gle­son Sprewell to pull the Cougars within 17-14 with 12 min­utes left in the sec­ond quar­ter.

That was close as UH would get. SMU pushed the lead back to dou­ble dig­its with a pair of touch­downs, in­clud­ing a 13-play, 91-yard march — capped by a 6-yard run by Free­man — and a 1-yard touch­down grab by Proche with six sec­onds left. The last touch­down was aided by a back­break­ing 44-yard run — on fourth-and-1 — by Free­man.

SMU ran 52 plays for nearly 400 yards in the first half.

“When you give some­body 52 swings they are go­ing to make some plays,” Applewhite said.

To be­gin the sec­ond half, UH forced SMU to four three-and-out se­ries on its first five pos­ses­sions. With 1:39 left in the third quar­ter, Hicks and Rober­son hooked up for a 59-yard score.

UH flirted with a come­back as Dal­ton Wither­spoon con­verted a 27-yard field goal and Keith Corbin caught a 1-yard touch­down to trim the lead to 38-24. King added a 3yard touch­down run with 9:34 re­main­ing.

It was too big a hole for the Cougars to dig out of.

“At the end of the night, what I told them in the locker room, I didn’t get you ready as a head coach, Applewhite said. “We didn’t get you ready as a staff. And we have to look at our­selves in the mir­ror as play­ers. Ev­ery­thing is still ahead of us. We’re still the same foot­ball team we were the last five weeks when we won games. But we have to re­fo­cus.”

Bran­don Wade / As­so­ci­ated Press

SMU tight end Ryan Becker, right, beats UH de­fen­sive back Deontay An­der­son for a touch­down re­cep­tion in the first half.

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