The Cougars fell to Mississippi State 47-24 on Saturday night in front of the third-largest crowd in Robertson Stadium history.
True freshman quarterback David Piland made his career debut completing 30 of 57 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns.
Piland’s opening drive ushered in a touchdown after completing his first five passes for 51 yards.
“We got behind and we put him in a situation where, because of the score, we probably had to throw a little bit more than we wanted to,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said.
The ensuing possession served as a precursor for things to come. Punt returner Patrick Edwards turned the ball over at the 10-yard line on a muffed punt and a holding penalty on the Cougars in the end zone resulted in a safety. The Bulldogs ran with the momentum and never looked back.
“We had a couple breakdowns in protection from our side and we also had some dropped balls at critical times,” Sumlin said. “One guy is not going to fulfill Case (Keenum)’s shoes, but collectively we have to play the best. That is the best thing to do.”
In his first career start, Piland threw two interceptions, one of which was returned 27 yards for a touchdown.
Adding salt to the wound, the Cougar offense was blanketed by the Miss. State defense, managing just 47 yards rushing on 16 attempts. Running back Bryce Beall rushed for 17 yards on 8 carries, while his counterpart Michael Hayes ran for 13 yards.
Beall said that Piland wasn’t to blame for Saturday’s poor offensive performance.
“David did a great job for us,” Beall said. “The offensive line and running backs need to do a better job protecting him. There were situations where we couldn’t protect him and he was getting hit and the timing was bad.
“We just have to get better at that and make him more comfortable so he doesn’t feel like he has to rush his throws.”
The Bulldogs derailed the Cougars’ defensive unit, posting 409 rushing yards and 129 passing yards.
Miss. State quarterback Chris Relf was active with 96 yards on the ground, rushing for one touchdown. Relf completed seven of 14 for 57 yards passing.
Joining in on the defensive assault, Miss. State running back Vick Ballard averaged 9.6 yards per carry on 14 rushes for 134 yards. UH linebacker Marcus McGraw said that the poor coverage was because of missed assignments.
“If we would’ve done a little more tackling, a couple of those points wouldn’t have been on the board,” McGraw said. “That’s something we’re going to have to go back and look at. It’s the little things we have to change.”
McGraw led the Cougar defense Saturday night with 14 total tackles. Saturday’s loss snapped an 18-game winning streak and marked the second loss to a non-conference opponent.
“Our players and coaches are embarrassed in that showing, particularly in front of our home crowd,” Sumlin said. “It is obviously something we don’t want to do.”
The Cougars (3-2, 2-0 C-USA) travel across town to face off against the rivaled Rice Owls Oct. 16.
The Owls (1-5, 0-2 C-USA) are coming off a 44-24 defeat to conference opponent UTEP Saturday night. Sumlin said that he wants to see his team bounce back to stay undefeated in conference play.
“The bottom line is that we have to come back next week and we have a conference game,” Sumlin said. “The original goals of this season are still out there, and that is to win a conference championship, and we want to keep the Bayou Bucket at Houston.”