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Wedndesday, September 29, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 27

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Loss to UAB sends shock waves through UH

Sports Opinion

Rohith Nandagiri

On the surface, the Cougar football team is better than it was the last few years. The Cougars have almost matched their win total of each of the last two years and they are at .500, 2-2, with a bye this week.

But when you look closely, the team has not played up to expectations. After you look past the euphoria of the 45-0 drubbing of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns, you will see that in the other three games, the offense has not been effective.

Against Rice, it did not sustain one long drive, and against Alabama, it could not muster more than one touchdown. Finally, against UAB, it looked almost lifeless against a team that was playing its first home game as a Division I school.

Granted, UAB has solid talent, but it still should not be that much better than Houston. The final score (29-10) proves that defensively, the Cougars could not hold the Blazers, and that offensively, they could not get anything going.

An overall ass-kicking took place in Birmingham this weekend.

So now, every alum this side of the Mason-Dixon Line is questioning head coach Kim Helton's job status. How can you blame them? He has won 19 games in his seven-year tenure as head coach. Most coaches ask for five years to try and turn around a program. He has recruited more junior college talent then high school blue chips and has yet to create a better program.

He has also not been able to recruit a quarterback to push Jason McKinley. At one time, McKinley was thought to have great talent, but now, even that is in question.


The Cougars' starting quarterback, Jason McKinley (left), sits down after takinga hit during Saturday's loss to UAB.

Ti Truong/The Daily Cougar

He was high on the list of offensive talent in Conference USA a few years back, but a lack of receivers and a lack of mobility has caused McKinley to rely heavily on the running game.

But the Cougars can win with McKinley. He needs to learn to feel the pressure and step up in the pocket in order to avoid the rush. The safety the Blazers caused on Saturday saw McKinley just standing there in the middle of his own end zone.

And the backup, senior Tyson Helton, looked like a rookie back there in the pocket. He has not developed into a better quarterback since that experiment a few years ago when they tried to play both quarterbacks in a game.

McKinley beat Helton out and has been the starter ever since. But now, Helton is graduating, and McKinley is going to be a senior next year. It is time to recruit a stud quarterback to learn for a year and take over for McKinley when he graduates.

There are always a few around Houston every year, and there is no shortage this year. UH could also use a couple of wide recievers as well. The Cougars are now seeing what the loss of Jerrian James means to this team. There was no one to back him up, and the Cougars are having to go with a defensive back (junior Will Pettis) to take his place.

Helton needs to recruit more talent in case injuries occur. Houston alums are getting frustrated seeing this team continuously penalized. These guys are not freshmen anymore, and a mark of a disciplined program is few penalties.

Another mark of a good program are players from the program making it to the National Football League. In seven years, only a handful are there and only one is playing. Antowain Smith played for the Cougars for two years and was C-USA's Offensive Player of the Year in 1996. He was drafted in the first round by the Buffalo Bills and now starts.

Ben Fricke is a backup center in Dallas. Chuck Clements is the third-string quarterback in Denver.

But even without players going on to bigger and better things, UH should not be losing by almost three touchdowns to the University of Alabama-Birmingham. It is embarrasing. UH should be running the ball better and should be able to mix in the pass when necessary.

Has Helton made this program better than when he took over? Can he make this program better? Those are two questions that UH Athletics Director Chet Gladchuk must answer. I would tend to answer "no" to both. Continuously bringing in junior college talent will only be a stop gap measure. UH needs a long term solution.
 

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