Offense comes up short in Texas Bowl
The Cougars’ fourth ranked offense in the nation could not muster much against Texas Christian University as they lost 20-13 on Friday in the Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium with a crowd of 62,097 looking on – a Texas Bowl record.
The pace of the game didn’t fare too well for the Cougars. Both teams struggled to move the ball, and the game’s first points were scored with eight seconds left in the first quarter when redshirt freshman quarterback Case Keenum avoided several sack opportunities and found redshirt freshman running back Andre Kohn beyond the Horned Frog secondary.
That play was about all Houston got from their offense. TCU played extremely well against the potent Cougar offense, limiting Houston to 367 yards, 146 yards shy of what they averaged for the season.
"(TCU) brought a lot of people on blitzes, and we knew that they were going to do that. Just little stuff that would get us going and we just couldn’t get anything going," Keenum said.
Senior running back Anthony Alridge could not get into the flow of the offense for most of the game. Alridge mustered only 1.9 yards per carry, finishing with a season low of 29 yards.
The Horned Frogs stacked the line and would not let "Quick Six" beat them, forcing the Cougars to rely on Keenum. Though Keenum had his best game of his short collegiate career, passing for a career-high 335 yards on 23-for-38 passing with a touchdown, he was sacked five times and the offense sputtered once they got near the redzone.
"(TCU stacking the line) is something we’re used to, but we didn’t change our offense like we normally do," Alridge said. "We normally change the offense where we pass the ball and spread it out a little bit, or do something a little different. They did a great job in stopping the run and containing me."
It wasn’t until the last drive of the game that the Cougars seemed to move the ball with ease. TCU planted a punt and downed it at the two-yard line. Houston drove the ball to the Horned Frog 19-yard line, but the drive came too late as time expired, ending the game.
"We used our timeouts, we were able to get them stopped and they punted the ball dead on the two-yard line," interim head coach Chris Thurmond said. "But (our offense) came out and responded back down the field.
"We had a chance to win it at the end, we just came up one play short, but the kids played hard the whole game. We played with great effort."
One play that may not be talked about may be one of the biggest. Instead of taking a shot at the endzone on third-and-15 with 55 seconds left in the second quarter, the Cougars decided to go with a draw to Alridge that netted a two-yard loss.
For an offense that was aggressive all season, Houston took a conservative approach and took the field goal to go into halftime with a 10-7 lead. Not having former head coach Art Briles may have affected the play call.
"It was probably more mental than anything. (Not having) your head coach over on the sideline was probably more intimidating than anything else," Alridge said. "You’re used to seeing the face that’s calling all the plays, but it was something different."
The Cougar defense did a good job holding TCU down for majority of the game. Houston allowed three-yards a carry to the Horned Frogs and didn’t give up many big plays.
TCU quarterback Andy Dalton wasn’t overly impressive, but the Katy native drove the Horned Frogs down the field and made plays when he had to.
Dalton completed 21-of-30 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 17 yards with a touchdown, securing him the MVP award.
The Horned Frogs faced the same problems the Cougars did – not being able to finish drives. TCU made some changes to get the ball moving better in the second half, though.
"What they (changed) was that they got the ball out of (Dalton’s) hand quicker," senior linebacker Brendan Pahulu said. "Everything was a short, quick pass, so the blitzes that were coming were coming a second late. If we had coverage for about another second, then we would have had him."
The bowl drought continues for Houston, at least for another year. With the Cougars going 0-8 in the their last bowl games, the 27-year-old streak will be a hot topic for next season’s squad.
It’s the third time in four years that the Cougars have lost a bowl game by a margin of a touchdown. What was most disappointing for Alridge was the inability for the Cougars to finish.
"It’s disappointing when you have an opportunity to win a game," Alridge said. "We were put into a situation where we had an opportunity to put it into the end zone and we came away with two three-pointers, and we should have had touchdowns."
The Texas Bowl marked the end for interim head coach Chris Thurmond with the Cougars. Thurmond has spent the last two seasons with Houston coaching the cornerbacks.
"It’s been fun. It’s been unbelievable," Thurmond said. "I loved every second of everyday. I wish we could do it forever.
"Anytime you’re around this kind of team it’s like taking a B-12 shot everyday. They energize you up, so it was a great experience for all of us. For all the players and all the coaches, they responded (well) and hopefully they’ll learn some life lessons from this. Not everything will go the way you want, but you make the outcome as good as possible."