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Wednesday, December 8, 2021


Defense a no-show for UH against Owls

In front of 26,432 fans at Rice Stadium, the UH defense couldn’t come up with the stops to win, playing a significant part in the 31-34 loss in Saturday’s down-to-the-wire rivalry game.

Safety Nick Saenz and the rest of the UH secondary hand their hands full after allowing 27 points in the first half, including three touchdowns through the air from Rice quarterback Nick Fanuzzi. | Anthony Vasser/ Rice Sports Information

The Cougars were shredded by the Rice offense, surrendering 138 yards rushing and 206 yards passing. The defense was handicapped after a disappointing first-half performance that ushered a 27-14 Rice lead. The Cougars would respond, but it would be too late.

“Very few teams can play a poor half and win a game,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “We’re not there yet. We made adjustments in the second half and had a little better execution. We can’t come out and play for a half and win a game that’s a crosstown rivalry.”

Rice quarterback Nick Fanuzzi and running back Sam McGuffie mounted a consistent offensive assault. Fanuzzi completed 14 of 21 airing out 206 yards and three touchdowns, while his counterpart rushed 19 times for 63 yards.

“You can’t flop around for a half, come out and play for a half, and win games in a crosstown rivalry,” Sumlin said. “I thought our guys came out after halftime and accepted the challenge.”

The Cougar defense responded in the third quarter, allowing 92 rushing yards on 40 attempts. Maintaining the pressure in the fourth quarter, the defense prompted Fanuzzi to complete a 13-yard pass to wide receiver Vance McDonald to clinch the 34-31 Rice lead.

“It’s not so much what you do, but how you do it,” Sumlin said. “A good or bad defense’s upset is usually not a whole bunch of guys, it’s one or two guys on one play.”

Aside from the poor defensive performance, linebacker Sammy Brown stood out, posting eight tackles, with five of them resulting in losses totaling 31 yards. Middle linebacker Marcus McGraw made 11 tackles and registered one for a loss.

McGraw said that as a member of the defense, he was disappointed in the way the team performed in the first half.

“I hope our team realizes what we are going to have to do to win games now,” McGraw said. “We can’t come out and be a second half team. We are going to have to come out and be able to play from the start.”

Absent in Saturday’s contest was a collective effort by the UH special teams. The Cougars returned three kickoffs for 53 yards, which was overshadowed by what Rice was able to do. Rice special teams averaged 25.7 yards on six kickoff returns for 154 yards.

“I think the team is really going to take this one to heart,” McGraw said.

Sumlin said that as difficult as the loss is to the team, they must move on.

“I still think that, as a football team, we are still in the thick of going to a conference championship,” Sumlin said. “Obviously, we have to do some things to get some things fixed, but I believe we can get these things corrected.”

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