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Bayou Bucket stunner leaves Cougars with work to do and little time

UH’s 43-41 double-overtime loss to Rice is the Cougars’ first loss in the rivalry since 2010. | Anh Le/The Cougar

The Houston Cougars had a weekend to forget.

Between the satisfaction with their opening week win over UTSA and the anticipation for their imminent Big 12 debut, fans left Rice Stadium on Saturday forced to wonder whether the Cougars remembered they had a date with the Owls before they got to September 16’s dance with TCU.

The 43-41 double-overtime loss suffered at the hands of Rice, UH’s first loss to its cross-town rivals in nearly 13 years, was even more somber than the final score-line tells.

A 21-point opening quarter for Rice put Houston on upset notice early, and with the score 28-7 at halftime things looked bleak for the Cougars.

Maybe Houston could take some solace in the second-half turnaround that sent the game to overtime. But this is Rice, UH’s most storied rival. These two teams have faced off 45 times. Houston has won 33 of those games.

In the Bayou Bucket Classic, there’s no solace in a valiant comeback effort.

In the Bayou Bucket Classic, it’s win or bust.

“How we didn’t have the will to win in overtime I cannot explain,” said head coach Dana Holgorsen after the loss. “Not being able to finish, that really hurts me.”

Junior defensive lineman and team captain Nelson Ceaser was blunt:

“It’s our fault,” Ceaser said. “We took Rice for granted. Point blank period.”

Ceaser recorded both of Houston’s sacks on Rice quarterback JT Daniels. The infamous Sack Ave was thus at best a one-man show on Saturday night.

Junior quarterback Donovan Smith scored five of UH’s six touchdowns, three rushing and two passing, with his sophomore pass-catchers Samuel Brown and Matthew Golden both showing up big in the second half.

Brown had 138 receiving yards. Golden caught both passing touchdowns.

All these performances are positives that could have been taken from the game if, of course, Houston completed the comeback when the clock read ‘final’ in Rice Stadium.

Instead, the bitter end gives UH a blemish on its record entering Big 12 that fans and (apparently) players had assumed would not be there entering this week.

On Monday, the sting from Saturday was still fresh.

“Based on what happened last week, I don’t think I’m going to have to say a whole lot,” Holgorsen said on Monday.

He says now is the time to push the players to practice better and, in turn, play better. He says the same goes for the coaching staff.

“Do your job. Man up. Let’s go,” Holgorsen said.

With plenty of work to do, UH looks ahead to its date with CFP National Championship runner-up TCU this Saturday. A turnaround is needed, and the team has just a week to orchestrate a change of fortune in time for its hotly-anticipated Big 12 debut.

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