Now it’s do or die
The mistake-prone Houston Cougars barely managed to avoid losing by the biggest margin of defeat in Cougar history in a game full of disappointing performances against Tulsa on Saturday at Chapman Stadium.
The Cougars (6-4, 5-2 Conference USA) could not hold off a potent Tulsa (7-3, 5-2) offense and were diffused by an unforgiving Tulsa defense as they fell to the Golden Hurricane 56-7 in the contest for the C-USA West Division title.
The two teams are now tied for first place in the West with one conference game left for each team.
Houston must beat Marshall on Saturday for a chance to get another shot at the C-USA championship.
"It’s a nightmare. It snowballed, and we didn’t do a good job of slowing it down," head coach Art Briles said. Houston averaged 37.2 points per game in their first nine games of the season, but the Golden Hurricane went into halftime with a 35-0 lead and held the Cougars to just 324 total offensive yards on the night.
Leading the way to victory was senior quarterback Paul Smith, who put in a record-setting performance in Tulsa’s last scheduled home game of the season.
Houston’s defense did not put adequate coverage on Smith. He finished with 313 passing yards against Houston and found four different receivers to score five times and also ran for a touchdown in the first quarter.
At the end of the night, Smith had become Tulsa’s leading single-season passer with 3,496 yards and leading career passer with 9,367 yards. He also tied the record for touchdown passes in a season at 32.
"He’s a poised competitor. He just made the plays and we didn’t," Briles said.
The Cougars were also unable to defend the ground game, allowing Tulsa to run 202 yards for a total of 515 offensive yards.
Houston’s offense did not show up until late in the fourth quarter, when freshman running back Terrance Ganaway scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to give the Cougars their first score of the game with 2:25 left to play.
The Cougars’ only other chance to score was denied when senior kicker T.J. Lawrence was blocked on a 25-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter.
Both Cougar quarterbacks played in the first half, but neither was able to get the offense going. Houston finished with 66 total passing yards.
Redshirt freshman Case Keenum threw an interception and was sacked once, and sophomore Blake Joseph threw two interceptions and was sacked three times.
The Cougars did not help themselves by committing 12 penalties, 10 in the first half, for a total loss of 94 yards.
"This team’s always been good about rebounding from wins or losses," senior wideout Perry McDaniel said. "We’re going to be ready. We know we’ve got to win the next two games, and that’s all we can control right now."