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Drowning out the noise: UH football’s belief never wavered

Dana Holgorsen was all smiles after UH knocked off undefeated SMU on Saturday night at TDECU Stadium. | James Schillinger/The Cougar

Dana Holgorsen was all smiles after UH knocked off undefeated SMU on Saturday night at TDECU Stadium. | James Schillinger/The Cougar

After blowing a 14 point lead to Texas Tech to open the 2021 season, it appeared that it was going to be another long year for the Houston football program under Dana Holgorsen.

Everything seemed to be spiraling out of control for the Cougars. UH football still had not strung together back-to-back wins through Holgorsen’s first 21 games as head coach.

UH fans heavily criticized the team, saying no progress had been made since Holgorsen took over the UH program in 2019.

Quarterback Clayton Tune was under heavy fire from UH fans early in the season after his four-interception performance in the Cougars season-opener. Social media was full of people saying Tune should be benched.

But Tune drowned out the noise, continuing to believe in himself and listen to the encouragement from Holgorsen and his teammates who constantly reinforced that he was their quarterback.

“I’ve just kind of learned to tune out the noise and not really worry about what people are saying because it doesn’t really matter,” Tune said. “What matters is what the team thinks and what I think and the ability that I know that I have. That’s kind of what I stuck to just knowing that I can play this way.”

The rest of the team followed Tune’s lead, drowning out the outside criticisms and remaining confident they had a good football team. 

The Cougars continued to grind every day in practice, determined to change the narrative surrounding the program.

“We never care about what outside people have to say,” said sophomore receiver Nathaniel Dell. “We just go in and work every week.” 

The following week, UH dominated cross-town rival Rice University. 

While this win didn’t mean much to the UH fan base, considering the Owls have not had a winning record since 2014, it was just the spark the Cougars needed to get things rolling.

The next week, UH football cruised past FCS school Grambling State, winning back-to-back games for the first time under Holgorsen.

Next up, the Cougars opened up American Athletic Conference play with three games in 13 days, two of which were on the road. 

UH was up to the challenge, outsourcing its opponents 113 to 52 over the three-game stretch on the way to improving the win streak to five, proving that the work the team was putting in on a daily basis to turn things around was paying dividends.

“Weekdays we work. Saturday, that’s when we cash the check in,” Dell said. “We never care about what everybody else has to say if they doubt us or not because they are not on the field.”

After a bye week, the Cougars had to sit through a 5 hour and 18-minute rain delay before they could take the field against East Carolina.

Despite struggling to get into a rhythm, UH found a way to pull out the win over the Pirates to set up a heavyweight battle against SMU for the top spot in the AAC.

With the lights shining bright, the Cougars showed up against the 19th ranked Mustangs.

Tune played the game of his life, throwing for a career-high 412 yards and four touchdowns.

Dell tore apart the Mustangs’ defense, hauling in nine receptions for 165 yards and three scores.

Sack Avenue showed up, sacking SMU’s Tanner Mordecai, who entered the game only to have been taken down twice all season, three times on the night.

Marcus Jones provided magic in the return game once again, fielding a kick two yards deep in the end zone and taking it to the house for the game-winning touchdown.

The Cougars finally picked up the marquee win that had eluded the program for years, solidifying that UH football was finally back on the right track.

Students stormed the field. Holgorsen was drenched in a Gatorade bath. Players stayed on the field long after the clock hit triple zeros taking pictures with fans to celebrate UH’s upset over undefeated SMU on Saturday night at TDECU Stadium.

“It’s awesome. That’s why you play the game,” Tune said. “When you’re a little kid and you grow up playing the game and watching moments like this. It’s awesome to live those moments and see everyone’s work come to fruition.”

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