Houston Cougars receiver Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell catches a pass and rushes against the Memphis Tigers defense in Friday’s game at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)
The Houston Cougars football team, somehow, someway, came back and earned its third win of the season on Friday night, upsetting Memphis 33-32. The Cougars will now head into their bye week.
Houston shows fight, pull off improbable rally
The Houston Cougars (3-3, 1-1 AAC) battled through a lot of adversity in their win against the Memphis Tigers (4-2, 2-1 AAC). After falling 26-7 early in the fourth quarter, the Cougars could have easily checked out with the bye week approaching, but instead, they fought until the end.
Houston’s fight was put on display on its penultimate offensive drive of the game. Following a draw play that went nowhere on a third-and-10 to running back Stacy Sneed, quarterback Clayton Tune fought for the first down on fourth-and-10. It looked like he was going to get sacked, and instead, he fought to pick up the first down with his feet.
On that same drive, Tune converted on a fourth-and-7 to receiver Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell that picked up a first down. On the next play, receiver Kesean Carter was in the end zone. The Cougars then kicked the onside kick with only 1:17 left in the game. Houston had only one timeout left, and somehow, it was tight end Christian Trahan that came away with the ball.
Houston drove down the field with a 21-yard pass to Samuel Brown, a 15-yard catch to Carter and a two-yard pass to Carter for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Cougars also scored on a six-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a six-yard touchdown by receiver Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell in the fourth quarter. After Memphis drove down the field and added a field goal, Houston defensive back Jayce Rogers returned a kickoff 100 yards for the touchdown that made it a 10-point game.
Nightmare at the Memphis five-yard line
The Houston Cougars will want to forget some of their plays when getting inside the Tigers’ five-yard line. Usually getting that deep into an opponent’s territory is a good thing for an offense, but for Houston, it was a disaster.
The Houston Cougars had a chance to push for a touchdown at the end of the first half. After going on a 10-play, 70-yard drive in under two minutes, Houston found itself on a third-and-3 at the Memphis four-yard line with five seconds left on the game clock before halftime.
Instead of getting off one more play with five seconds left to potentially score a touchdown, Holgorsen and the Houston staff opted to kick the guaranteed 21-yard field goal. Except it was not guaranteed as kicker Bubba Baxa missed the attempt so far left, it even missed the net used to stop the football from going into the crowd. Houston went into the locker room down 17-7.
On Houston’s first offensive drive of the third quarter, the team found itself inside of Memphis’ five-yard line again. This time, the Cougars got inside the Tigers’ one-yard line. On third & goal, Houston tried a QB sneak by Tune that was stopped short.
On fourth-and-goal, running back Brandon Cambell was stuffed by the Tigers’ defensive line. Houston turned it over on downs. Memphis went on an 89-yard field goal drive following the stop.
Terrible starts continue
What has been a season-long issue continued for the Houston Cougars in the first quarter against Memphis. The Cougars’ offense was first to go on the field. After picking up one first down, UH found itself on a third-and-9 until a false start by left tackle Patrick Paul made it third-and-14.
Tune was then unable to connect with receiver Matthew Golden on a pass that could have given Houston another first down to extend the drive. Instead, the Cougars punted.
The defense did not fare any better. Houston was able to get Memphis into three third-down situations. The Tigers converted on each one.
First, Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan connected with receiver Javon Ivory for 14 yards. Then, Houston defensive back Jayce Rogers committed a pass interference penalty on third-and-9 to extend the Tigers’ drive. Lastly, running back Asa Martin was able to pick up a third-and-2 with a two-yard rush.
The first drive for the Tigers ended with a three-yard rushing touchdown by Memphis running back Brandon Thomas.
Penalty problem gets better
It has become a common saying for head coach Dana Holgorsen throughout the entire 2022 season: “too much stupid (stuff).” As it has been all season, the Cougars once again were hurt by penalties, particularly in the first quarter.
The Houston Cougars were called for three penalties in the first period that cost UH 25 yards. A defensive pass interference call against defensive back Jayce Rogers gave Memphis a boost on its first drive of the game which ended in a touchdown.
Houston was able to clean up the penalty issues after the first quarter, but still committed seven that lost the team 77 yards for the entire game.
Defense shows good and bad flashes
Houston’s defense put together a solid performance for much of the game against Memphis. After giving up 14 first-quarter points, the Houston defense buckled up and allowed only six points in the second and third quarters.
However, the UH defense had its tough moments too. It allowed Memphis to convert on several third-and-longs. The Tigers went eight-of-15 on third downs in the game, including three-of-five on third downs of nine yards and more to go.
Houston also allowed Memphis receiver Gabriel Rogers to throw a 41-yard bomb to Martin that was caught for a touchdown and put the Tigers up 26-7. The Cougars then allowed the Tigers to go on a nine-play, 47-yard drive that ticked over four minutes off the clock and ended in a field goal.
The Cougars did force a fumble against the Tigers in the third quarter. Safety Gervarrius Owens stripped the ball from Memphis receiver Joe Scates after he had a 29-yard gain. Houston accumulated four sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
Houston defensive lineman Atlias Bell recorded the game-ending sack on Henigan that sealed the win for the Cougars.