The Houston Cougars' making the college football playoffs was always kind of a pipe dream, especially playing in a non-power conference, and especially with a schedule that included Lamar and Texas State. But if UH played a perfect season and dispatched opponents with ease and domination every step of the way, there was always a chance.
Louisville’s defeat last week more than likely ended that UH playoff dream because Louisville was the only power conference team still left on the UH schedule, and the Cardinals were ranked higher than the Cougars. But defeating a lower-ranked Louisville team wouldn’t really be the same thing, not in the minds of those folks who get to choose teams like Alabama and Clemson for the playoffs.
But with Houston’s 46-40 loss to Navy (4-1) on Saturday, the Cougars (5-1) kissed away perfection. There went the perfect season. There went the playoff talk. There went the top 10 ranking. And, quite possibly, there went the chance for a second straight New Year’s Day bowl game.
The Cougars put up some impressive stats against the Midshipmen, gaining 486 yards of total offense against a supposedly tough Navy defense. Greg Ward Jr. threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 94 yards and another touchdown. And at times, it appeared the UH offense could do just about whatever it wanted to to.
But that’s where the mistakes came into play. Mistakes like two Ward interceptions (one of which was returned for a Navy touchdown) along with a lost fumble. The Cougars could have maybe survived those mistakes but for the fact that Navy converted those turnovers into 17 points, and teams that lose the turnover battle generally lose football games.
The Cougars could also have probably survived the offense’s mistakes if the UH defense had found a way to make tackles. Yet the Cougars never quite figured out the Navy triple-option offense, surrendering 382 total yards (306 on the ground). And for as good as Ward appeared to look on offense, Navy QB Will Worth was better, rushing for a touchdown and 115 yards on 32 rushes. Worth completed just three passes on the game, but two of those completions were for touchdowns.
The Cougars were down by 14 points multiple times in the second half, so that UH was able to get the score to 46-40 with just under two minutes left in the game was kind of miraculous. But then UH just ran out of time. Though the Cougars could have perhaps avoided the deficit if their special teams play hadn't been awful.
The Cougars had one extra point attempt blocked. Two onside kicks attempted in the fourth quarter failed. And let’s not forget about that disastrous fourth quarter snap on a punt that sailed over the punter’s head and into the end zone, resulting in a safety.
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The Navy midshipmen in attendance at the game were shouting “overrated” at the Cougars as they started to score on the Cougars. The 46 points scored by Navy were the most ever scored by the Midshipmen over a ranked opponent, and the defeat of No. 6 UH was Navy's biggest upset since 2008.
This is a game that Tom Herman will likely leave off the audition tape he sends to LSU and Texas after the season, though the UH defense did do its best impersonation of the Longhorn defense. And it’s also a game that the Cougars will want to try to wipe from their memories — after reviewing the tape and trying to fix what went wrong.
That Houston lost to Navy is not an upset on par with UTSA coming into Houston and defeating the Coogs on the opening night of TDECU Stadium. Navy is a good team. Not great, but good, and there are many teams that struggle with defending that Navy triple-option offense. But if a team’s going to go to the playoffs and/or make a New Year’s bowl, it can’t afford to lose a game like this. And that’s what the Cougars did Saturday. Knowing that it pretty much needed a perfect season, UH stumbled and lost.
So what happens now? The next game for the Cougars is home against Tulsa next week. It’s a game they should easily win. But first, UH needs to get over this game, and it likely needs to forget about thoughts of perfection, playoffs and New Year’s bowls.