Houston Cougars head coach Dana Holgorsen on the sidelines of UH’s loss to Kansas on Sept. 17 at TDECU Stadium. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)
Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen seemed to be at a breaking point on Saturday following the Cougars’ 34-27 victory against in-town rival Rice.
Holgorsen was frustrated with the penalties, the inability to close out the game on offense and the defense’s inability to stop the Owls backed at their own six-yard line with only 24 seconds on the game clock.
Rice drove down the field for 85 yards and almost had an improbable comeback with one second left as quarterback TJ McMahon attempted to hit his top receiver Luke McCaffrey in the end zone for a touchdown that could have led to a game-tying point after touchdown or even a game-winning two-point conversion. Houston defensive back Jayce Rogers broke up the play.
“I don’t know what to say,” Holgorsen said. “We’re somehow 2-2. Somehow won that game. Give Rice a ton of credit. Coach Bloomgren is coaching his tail off. They’re a lot better.”
UH has now committed 10 or more penalties in all four of its games. The Cougars have committed 43 penalties through the four outings. The total penalties rank as the most in all of college football, one more than Syracuse at 42.
“Somehow we figured out a way to win, grateful for that. A lot of stupid stuff once again,” a frustrated Holgorsen said after the game. “I ain’t taking responsibility for that. At some point they got to quit doing that.”
Houston’s game against Rice had a similar script as the UTSA and Kansas game. UH scored first, and then the Owls made a run that put them in front at halftime. For the first time this season, however, the Cougars never faced a double-digit deficit in the game. But, Houston did find itself down 14-10 at the intermission.
UH receiver Nathaniel Dell said the message at halftime was a reiteration of the team’s emphasis during the week leading up to the game—do your job. Holgorsen was the one emploring his team to focus on their individual responsibilities only, Dell said.
The message seemed to have worked as the Cougars came out of the break and scored touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game. The defense, however, continued to struggle in the second half, allowing Rice to trade scores with UH in the third and into the fourth quarter.
However, the defense ultimately made the plays of the game with under five minutes in the fourth when defensive lineman D’Anthony Jones recorded back-to-back sacks on McMahon. Both sacks resulted in fumbles, but the second one ended in a loss that was scooped up by fellow defensive lineman Nelson Ceaser.
“We needed to step up defensively,” Ceaser said.
The play resulted in a touchdown for Houston that put the Cougars up 34-27. On the following drive, UH defensive back Thabo Mwaniki picked off a pass by McMahon that gave Houston the ball with only 2:08 left in the fourth quarter. UH’s offense, however, was unable to move the chains to clinch the game, which led to Rice’s 85-yard drive at the end of the game.
Add to the mix that the officials questionably put one second on the game clock following a 51-yard catch by Rice receiver Bradley Rozner that looked like it should have been the final play of the game, and you get a disgruntled Holgorsen.
When asked what he thought about how his team responded to trailing at halftime, the head coach said it was good. But, he also said he is exhausted with consistently needing to encourage his team to rally.
“I’m tired of doing it, man. I’m tired at yelling at them, tired of motivating them, tired of all that crap,” Holgorsen said. “(It’s) college football, nobody is feeling sorry for us. No one is feeling sorry for me. I am a little bit. But, (Houston) did it. They went out and played better (in the second half).”
With a third of the season and the team’s nonconference slate now in the rearview mirror, Houston must turn its attention to a Tulane team that will enter TDECU Stadium at 3-1 in the American Athletic Conference play opener. The Green Wave defeated a tough Kansas State team on Sept. 17, who turned around and defeated No. 6 Oklahoma on Saturday.
For Houston quarterback Clayton Tune, he hopes conference play can serve as somewhat of a fresh start for the Cougars.
“Whatever happened, happened,” Tune said. “Learn from it, don’t dwell on it but learn from it and move forward. It’s a new season. We are starting conference (play), so it is basically a new season, and that is what we are focused on.”