This UH football season ended with a whimper, not a bang. The Cougars were easily handled in a disappointing 34-10 loss to San Diego State, ending a disappointing 9-4 season that started with such promise and that ended up being a nightmare for most people not named Tom Herman or Major Applewhite.
But maybe this loss was to be expected. An uninspiring team failing to execute an uninspiring game plan put together by a head coach selected as a result of a rather uninspiring coaching search.
And maybe the players just couldn’t take it anymore. Maybe they just got fed up with playing for a different head coach seemingly every week of the season — a slight exaggeration, of course, but only slightly as, since Thanksgiving weekend, the head coaches of UH football have been Tom Herman (since departed for UT), Todd Orlando (passed over for the UH job and now on his way to join Herman in Austin) and Major Applewhite (the former UT star quarterback who is supposedly some kind of offensive genius).
There was turmoil throughout a season that saw the demolition of Oklahoma to start the season, the rapid rise up the rankings, then fights among players, suspensions, injuries and the ever-present talk about what job Herman would be taking at the end of the season. There were the upset losses to Navy and SMU and Memphis. But there was UH destroying the playoff chances of Louisville, then came Thanksgiving, the massive coaching turnover, and a final player suspension that saw the team’s best wide receiver, Chance Allen, sent home from Las Vegas for violating curfew (seriously, who puts on a curfew for a team playing a fourth-tier bowl game in Las Vegas?).
And yet, despite it all, the Cougars led San Diego State 10-0 after one quarter. Sure, the offensive game plan was about as drearily unimaginative as something devised by Bill O’Brien for the Texans. But the defense was in charge, holding San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey to negative yardage while his team was able to net just five yards on 12 plays.
Then came the rest of the game, which, after putting up 102 yards in the first quarter, saw the UH offense go into a deep freeze. The Cougars put up just 254 yards for the game, and after the first quarter, never again saw the red zone. There was only so much the defense could do — it held San Diego State to just 255 yards of offense for the game, and it nearly prevented Pumphrey from become the NCAA’s all-time career rushing leader — the senior needed 108 yards for the record and ended up with 115 yards.
But the UH offense went from #HTownTakever to #HTownTurnover, giving the ball away four times in the second half (all off Greg Ward Jr. interceptions — including one that was returned for a touchdown) as the Aztecs rolled to victory thanks to the great field position, with the turnovers netting San Diego State 14 points, which was more than enough for the win.
This was always going to be a tough game for the Cougars. There’s the comedown from the start of the season to the talk of going to the playoffs to instead playing a bottom-feeder of a bowl game on the lowly first day of bowl games. Then there’s just the whole entire nuttiness of these past few weeks. There’s just no logic in how the interim coaching thing was handled because it just seems difficult to prepare a team for a game when the guy in charge of the planning keeps changing. Especially when the offensive scheme was as vanilla as what UH rolled out.
Then again, lots of UH game plans just seemed to rely on the ability of Ward to make something happen, and San Diego State bottled up Ward — he rushed 22 times for a net of zero yards. If Ward can’t run and scramble, then the UH offense is basically useless, witnessing the fact that the entire UH running game accounted for just 25 yards on the day. And with Allen gone for not being in bed on time, Ward became reliant on defensive back Brandon Wilson, who filled in at receiver and wound up as UH’s leading receiver on the game, with five catches for 52 yards (Wilson was also UH’s second leading rusher, running the ball four times for six yards).
So that’s how the UH season ended, the Cougars crapping out on the green turf of Las Vegas. Was it the adventure of Vegas? Was it a game plan that could have been devised by the Texans’ Bill O’Brien? And maybe, just maybe, there’s only so much chaos a team can take, and if that’s what happened, then it’s perfectly understandable.
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