Cougars end season on sour note
Being ineligible for a bowl game, out of contention for the Conference USA Championship and finishing under .500 was not exactly what the Cougars had in mind at the start of the season.
But that is exactly what happened, losing 35-20 Saturday against Texas Tech, in what turned out to be the final game of the season.
For the first time in six years, UH will not advance to a postseason game.
The Cougars (5-7, 4-4 C-USA) rushed for 150 yards as a team, but could not convert in short-yardage situations.
The Red Raiders forced five punts, and the Cougars went for it on fourth down eight times, converting five of them. Similar to the other six losses this season, costly turnovers and inconsistency on the defensive front keyed the losing effort.
UH made crucial stops, and improved on its third-down defense, but was the victim of too many big plays. Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts threw for 373 yards and four touchdowns.
The running attack of the Red Raiders produced 132 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown run from running back Eric Stephens.
“You can’t pinpoint it on one thing,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “We had third and short, and we had trouble running it. When we got into some longer yardage situations and they blitzed us, we got hit a couple times. We had some dropped balls that forced us to go for it on fourth down a couple times. We struggled on third down which is not characteristic of our team this year.
“When you go on the road and you’re not able to convert on third down, this is the result.”
The Cougars were active offensively in the first half, taking a brief 10-7 lead with 3:20 in the first quarter when quarterback David Piland threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to receiver Justin Johnson. Kicker Matt Hogan nailed two field goals of 49 and 19 yards, but trailed 21-13 at the half.
“Our inability to score touchdowns early in the game instead of field goals gave us a larger deficit than we needed at halftime,” Sumlin said. “The disappointing thing was even after all that to get back into the game, they went all the way for another score to put us away again.
“Our defense kept playing hard. There were times during the game that we got off the field, created turnovers. We just didn’t do enough offensively in those times to win the game.”
Plenty of questions abound as the Cougars prepare for the spring season. The team is waiting on the NCAA’s decision on Case Keenum’s appeal for another season. If Keenum does not return, the team will have David Piland, Terrance Broadway and Cotton Turner returning at the quarterback position. Head coaching vacancies at Minnesota and Miami has led fans to speculate if Sumlin could be lured to another program.
Much was expected of this team. Before the season began, players said that they felt every game on the schedule was winnable. Instead the team will finish with half of its win total from last season.
“There is no question this is not how we wanted to end it,” receiver Justin Johnson said. “But we are going to use this as motivation. We’re going to come in the offseason, and I can promise we’re going to work hard. We are going to embrace this season right now, at this point, so we never feel like this again.”