After a solid start to their first Big 12 campaign, the University of Houston fell on unexpected rough times Saturday night against cross town rival Rice. As the first quarter dragged on, it was obvious that this was a completely different team to the one fans saw only one week prior. There was a clear lack of urgency and commitment from the players that left fans and apparently, Head Coach Dana Holgorsen, scratching their heads wondering what went wrong.
As many fans sat down to their tvs or drove across town to Rice Stadium for this year's edition of the Bayou Bucket, not many were expecting the performance they were about to witness. Having handled a tough opening opponent, playing the intellectuals across town was going to be a walk in the park right?
Oh on the contrary.
From the opening kickoff, Rice came out with their hair on fire. Quarterback J.T. Daniels, now at his 32nd collegiate stop, showed every bit of his five-star caliber in the first half having five offensive drives and scoring four touchdowns with one interception thrown in the end zone after yet another dominant drive.
The first quarter was one of the worst quarters of football that has occurred under Holgorsen's tenure. The defense was nonexistent and looked like they hadn't practiced a snap or watched a second of film all week. The offense looked equally as bad having three possessions and either turning it over or having to punt each time. By the midpoint of the second quarter, Rice had launched out to a 28-0 lead. After a touchdown and an interception to end the half, it felt as though the momentum was taking a swing back the Cougars way.
“How we didn’t have the will to win in overtime I cannot explain.”
All credit where credit is due, UH showed amazing fight in them. Most teams would have laid down being down 28-0 and just phoned it in for the rest of the game. The Coogs mounted an improbable comeback, keeping Rice off the board the entire second half and scoring 28 unanswered points themselves to tie the game up.
Sam Brown was the standout player of the game. Seemingly every time he touched the ball, positive things happened. Tony Mathis was another standout showing the type of talent he has and what he can produce. The defense as well was impressive once they woke up not allowing a single point scored in regulation after the 8:32 mark in the second quarter.
However, when overtime started, the team ran out of gas. After scoring a touchdown to start the OT, the defense was unable to prevent Rice from scoring two touchdowns and converting a two-point conversion on their second drive. After responding with a touchdown, UH was unable to convert the two point try and that was all she wrote.
In the post game press conference, Holgorsen said, "how we didn't have the will to win in overtime, I cannot explain. After coming back from 28 points down, going up 35-28, and not being able to finish — that really hurts me."
The will was most likely there. A 28-0 run to climb out of a seemingly daunting deficit proved that. The physical ability was not. The gas tanks had to be on empty for most, if not all, these players after mounting such a significant comeback. Like many times last year what we saw was valiant, but too little too late.
The Bigger Picture
Looking at a calendar, this is year five of the Holgorsen administration. By this point in time, Coach Holgorsen should have no trouble getting his team's attention. He shouldn't have to worry about whether or not they will show up for what most, if not all, of America would deem a lesser opponent. Yet, here we are.
One of the most confusing things about this game was that on Tuesday at his radio show, Holgorsen said he had just come from the "best Tuesday practice we’ve had since I’ve been here.” After the game on Saturday though, he said:
"I sensed it Wednesday that it meant more to them than it did to us. I tried to get our attention Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and today. First half was unacceptable.”
How did things go off the rails so quickly? How did you go from the best Tuesday practice of all time(sarcasm added by the author) to realizing the opponent cared more than your team did in a 24 hour span of time?
There needs to be serious conversations within the athletic department about Coach Holgorsen's future. How unlikely is it that the plug will be pulled soon? Highly. But there needs to be discussions happening over when to make that call. If you can't get your team's attention leading up to what should have been layup win against a cross town rival, than what are you doing as the leader of said program?
Athletic Director Chris Pezman has publicly stated the goal this season is to make a bowl. If that challenge is not met, it may be time to make a move and find someone who can meet performance goals five years into a job.