‘We’re clearly not anywhere close’: Dana Holgorsen makes it clear, UH is still ways away from the conference’s best
Entering Nippert Stadium on Saturday afternoon, Houston was not expected to defeat Cincinnati, who entered the game as the No. 6 team in the entire country in both college polls, but it did not make the final result any less disappointing.
The Cougars (2-3, 2-2 American Athletic Conference) fell behind early in the first quarter after another opening drive for Houston ended in a punt. A 72-yard run by senior running back Gerrid Doaks and a couple of plays later and Cincinnati (6-0, 4-0) was up a touchdown, and the Bearcats never looked back.
“We’re clearly not anywhere close to where we need to be as a football team and as a program to be able to compete in this league,” UH head coach Dana Holgorsen told reporters via Zoom after the game. “We’re just not there yet.”
The loss to one of the best teams in the nation signaled to Houston once again that it has a long way to go to get back to the level it once was just a few years ago.
The Bearcats found success in particular on the ground, gashing through the Cougars’ defense for 342 total rushing yards and giving up two different 100-yard rushers in Doaks, who finished with 184 and a score, and junior quarterback Desmond Ridder, who ended with 103 and three running touchdowns.
Holgorsen emphasized to reporters that Houston lost the battle upfront in both the offensive and defensive lines, and that is where Cincinnati dominated them.
Despite the score, the game was within striking distance for Houston for part of the first half. The Bearcats led only 21-10 after UH had settled for a field goal following a 54-yard catch by sophomore receiver Nathaniel Dell that put the ball inside of Cincinnati’s 11-yard line.
“You got to punch that one in,” Holgorsen said. Instead of capitalizing on the momentum, UH followed up the big play with three straight incompletions. “When you get down there you got to finish. We did not.”
While it seemed like it was going to be only an 11-point deficit heading into halftime, the Cougars then botched the kickoff coverage in the final seconds and allowed the Bearcats to return the ball towards midfield, which set them in a great position to make up Houston’s score.
Doaks then broke off a 48-yard run, and the Bearcats were in the end zone just two plays later, which practically put the game out of reach for Houston.
“The end of the second quarter was unacceptable football at every single level,” Holgorsen said. “We just completely shut down on special teams and defense. Not acceptable, it’s just not acceptable. I think it was two hours later, (the offense) got the ball back.”
What made the end of the half particularly catastrophic for Houston was that not only did its deficit grow to 18, but Cincinnati got the ball first to start the third quarter, and it went on a 17-play drive that lasted over nine minutes and added a field goal to its lead before the Cougars’ offense ever got a chance to drive again.
“If you think is hard now, it’s going to get harder next week,” said Holgorsen on what he told his team.
As for junior quarterback Clayton Tune, Holgorsen said that he saw improvement from him against the Bearcats considering the numerous blitzes they sent his way, but still not enough to be able to compete against the best of the AAC.
With only four games left in the shortened and roller coaster of a season that 2020 has been for Houston, the head coach said he expects to see his team motivated to pull off some wins, which won’t be easy as three of the four teams are ahead of the Cougars in the AAC standings.
Ultimately the past two games for UH have served as a hard reminder that there is still a gap not only between the country’s best but also the conference’s best.
“We got to look in the mirror and everybody in this program has got to do better,” Holgorsen said. “We’re not nearly where we need to be to compete against a team like Cincinnati, which is the top team in the league right now.”