The Houston Cougars (4-3) hosted the No. 25 Memphis Tigers (6-1) on Thursday night at TDECU Stadium. Houston led the game 17-0 at the half, but like in Game Four of the ALCS which saw an epic Astros bullpen collapse, this game saw an epic defensive collapse by UH as Memphis got the 42-38 win, scoring the winning TD with 1:28 left. It was the second second half collapse in two weeks for the Cougars, but this defeat was at home in front of a stunned crowd of 30,001.
The UH defense held a good Memphis offense to zero points in the first half. The exact opposite occurred in the second half as Memphis raced up and down the field with ease, putting up 42 points and gaining more than 300 yards (Memphis finished the game with 501 yards on offense). Memphis scored on its first five second half possessions, and it also scored a touchdown on a 93-yard kickoff return — all within 8:31 of game clock.
“It was a multitude of things,” head coach Major Applewhite said of Houston’s second half collapse, “from receivers from Memphis making great plays, us being out of position at times, taking the bait on double moves, a pass interference penalty that extends a drive — there was also a special teams touchdown in there that was huge as well. But a lot of their deep shots that they were taking in the second half weren’t connecting….It was a number of things, whether it was poor technique, poor eyes, pass interference that extends a drive.”
The Cougars did good things on defense. They shut down the Memphis running game and turned the Tigers into a passing offense. But while Memphis finished the night with just 30 rushing yards on 23 attempts, the passing game accumulated 471 yards. Memphis QB Riley Ferguson finished the game going 33-for-53 for 471 yards, one interception, and one TD pass. He had open receivers most of the night, and his pump fake kept UH defenders off balance all night.
This is one loss that cannot be blamed on the failures of the UH offense in the second half. The Cougars put up 21 points in the second half and scored 38 for the game, which should be enough to win most games, especially for a team with a defense that is supposed to be as good as Houston’s. The Cougar running game showed life once again as Dillion Birden rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown while Duke Catalon got 65 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Kyle Postma threw for 315 yards.
Yet the offense did fail at a significant point in the second half as it was unable to get a needed yard on second and third down to extend a drive late in the fourth quarter while leading 38-35. UH opted to punt the ball instead of going for it, feeling that it was better to force Memphis to drive the field and waste precious clock time than to not make the first down and give Memphis the ball in field goal range. That didn’t matter as Memphis drove 80 yards in eight plays to get the go-ahead touchdown.
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“Did you see second down and third down?” Applewhite responded to a question about punting instead of going for the first down. “Did you watch those downs where we didn’t get anything? Okay, that’s why we punted the ball on fourth down because we didn’t run the ball on second and third down. I was not excited about putting the [Memphis] offense who scored a bunch of points at midfield.”
The UH defense allowed 42 points in the second half. That is the most points allowed by a UH defense since SMU put up 44 points on the Cougars in the second half of a game on October 18, 2012.
The Cougars play next on Saturday, October 28 against No. 16 and 6-0 USF in Tampa. USF has essentially dominated every team that is has played this season, and it will make for a very tough final game of what has been an extremely tough month of October. UH’s next home game will be on November 4 versus for ECU.