It’s happened many times at the University of Houston the past several years. The football team is on a roll and winning games with ease. Then comes a game it appears the Cougars should win easily, like Saturday, when the Cougars were favored by 6.5 points.
You could sub in Memphis. Or Navy. Or UConn. Or SMU. Or San Diego State. But yeah, the drill is pretty familiar to UH fans. The Cougars come out for what should be a pretty easy win and instead play lackluster football. There’s no urgency to the play. Assignments are missed. Tackling appears to be the toughest thing to do in all of organized sports. Passes are dropped. Balls are fumbled. And the result is a loss.
Such did happen Saturday, the Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-0) coming into TDECU Stadium and shutting up the 36,383 fans in attendance while defeating the Houston Cougars (2-1) by a final score of 27-24. Tech led 27-10 late into the fourth quarter when UH made a quarterback switch. It wasn’t that Texas Tech played a great game so much as it was that the Cougars just played uninspired football and didn’t appear to really do anything well during the entire game.
Head coach Major Applewhite attributed the team’s problems to a rather simple issue: It dug itself too deep of a hole by failing to execute. This failure to execute led to missed tackles and a lack of explosive plays on defense. On offense, it resulted in two interceptions and two fumbles (with another fumble on a punt a return).
“But tackling, and explosive plays,” Applewhite said. “There were probably three plays of 50 [yards that the defense allowed] that really flipped the field. So we have to look back and see, all of the different things that you ask yourself as a coach — did I give them a play call that they could execute? If I did give them a play call that they could execute, was it the right people…If it was the right people and the right call, did I coach it well enough?”
The offense was pretty much uniformly horrible except for a brief spurt late in the fourth quarter when Kyle Postma replaced the generally ineffective Kyle Allen at quarterback. Postma led two long drives for UH touchdowns, both of which relied on Postma's ability to scramble, elude defenders and get yards on the run. He rushed nine yards for one TD and completed a four-yard pass to Linell Bonner for the final score. Kyle Allen, meanwhile, was pulled from the game after going 24-39 for the game for just 271 yards and one touchdown while throwing two interceptions and fumbling the ball away twice.
Applewhite said the switch to Postma came about because of what Texas Tech was doing on defense. Primarily, the Red Raiders started dropping back into coverage, opening up the field for a quarterback like Postma who could run with the football.
“Every job is open,” Applewhite said when asked if the number one QB spot is now an open competition between Allen and Postma. “We don’t really — we don’t really discuss any other positions any differently, whether it’s right guard or quarterback or kicker or punter. It’s always open. The team deserves that.”
But this loss wasn’t just on Allen. The running backs weren’t able to accomplish much of anything on the ground. The offense generated just 346 yards on the day, with only 99 of that coming off the rush. The defense gave up more than 500 yards to the Tech offense, and often allowed the Red Raiders to break off long runs featuring multiple missed tackles.
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Applewhite further put more of the pressure on himself and his coaches than he did on the players.
“We have to be very critical of ourselves, as coaches first,” Applewhite said. “Did I train [Allen] for that moment? Was I as hard on him as I needed to be? Did I give him the tools that he needed to be successful? Because we’re a heck of a lot of older and have seen a lot more football than these guys.”
It wasn’t the worst game the Cougars have played over the past several years. It wasn’t a huge upset like the SMU loss. It didn’t sting the way the Memphis loss did. And nobody expected this team to be perfect this season. Yet it was still disappointing, still something that UH fans have seen too often the past several seasons.
The Cougars are on the road next Saturday as conference season gets underway. Houston will travel to Philadelphia to face Temple at 11 a.m. on ESPNU for anyone hoping to see a better version of the Cougars take the field.