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Monday, October 3, 2022

Football

UH football at ‘pivotal point’ heading into Bayou Bucket week


UH receiver Nathaniel Dell exits the field after a rough first half from the Cougars against Kansas. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

UH receiver Nathaniel Dell exits the field after a rough first half from the Cougars against Kansas. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

Ranked in the AP​ Top 25 entering the season for the first time since 2016. Favored to win the American Athletic Conference. Picked by many experts to represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl. All the preseason hype surrounding the UH football program quickly dissipated three weeks into the season.

With a nonconference schedule that featured taking on Texas Tech and Kansas in back-to-back weeks, UH had a golden opportunity to announce that it is coming to the Big 12 to win and will make a bunch of noise in 2023, the program’s inaugural season in its new conference.

That opportunity was squandered.

Losing 126 yards on 12 penalties, allowing the Red Raiders to drive the length of the field in 34 seconds to set up the field goal that sent the game to overtime and failing to hold on fourth-and-20 in the first overtime highlighted UH’s fifth consecutive loss to Texas Tech, a program that has finished in the bottom half of the Big 12 every season since 2010.

“Just too much stupid crap,” Holgorsen said following the loss.

A week later and it was more of the same.

The Cougars failed to solve Kansas, which though improved in 2022 is still a program that has finished dead last in the Big 12 in all but one season since 2009, surrendering 438 yards en route to a 48-30 loss.

“We got to get more disciplined when you face teams like that,” Holgorsen said. 

Quickly, the question has turned from “Could the 2022 Cougars be one of the program’s best teams ever?” to “Is UH even ready for the Big 12?”

The lack of discipline to begin the season from a team that returned most of its starters from a historic 12-win season a year ago has been startling.

From unsportsmanlike conduct penalties to lining up in the wrong position to missing tackle after tackle, the Cougars have not looked like a team favored to win its conference let alone a program that expects to compete for a conference championship in a Power Five conference less than a year from now.

“It’s being undisciplined in how we look. It’s being undisciplined in how we act. It’s losing our mind and it’s hurting the team,” Holgorsen said. “If we want to win, that stuff can’t happen.”

Not all is lost, as the Cougars’ goal of capturing the American Athletic Conference that eluded them a year ago is still achievable. 

“We still have everything we want in front of us and that is a conference championship,” said UH senior defensive end Derek Parish. “So, we’re going to move forward towards that.”

While the two nonconference losses have little effect on the Cougars’ chances of winning the AAC title, things must drastically change if UH is to have any shot of hoisting the championship trophy in December because playing inconsistent, mistake-filled football won’t get the program far.

It starts with cleaning things up against cross-town rival Rice in UH’s final game before it enters conference play.

“It’s almost a do or die,” said UH senior tight end Christian Trahan. “It’s time to make a decision. This is going to tell us who are football team is and what we’re all about.”

Heading into Bayou Bucket week, one thing is clear.

UH is at a fork in the road that not only will affect how the rest of 2022 goes but whether the Cougars will join the Big 12 with some momentum to build on or come into the new conference all wounded and beat up.

“We’re at a pivotal point right now,” Holgorsen said. “We’re about to find out who we are.”

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