Houston Cougars

Three Thoughts on Houston’s 43-41 Loss to Rice in Overtime

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Houston

The return of the Bayou Bucket saw the Houston Cougars go down big, fight back, only to lose on a failed two-point conversion in double overtime to the Rice Owls, 43-41, dropping them to 1-1 on the season. 

Rice scored 28 unanswered points and looked like the better team for three quarters of Saturday night’s game. Rice’s JT Daniels looked like the former five-star quarterback that had power programs watering at the mouth, and Luke McCaffrey made plays that his big brother Christain would only try to do in Madden. Then, Houston clawed, scratched, and battled their way back to force extra football in one of the most exciting games of week two.  


Cougar Comeback 

In a rivalry game, you throw out the history books, but Dana Holgorsen might’ve accidentally thrown out the playbook with it. The first quarter might’ve been the single worst quarter in recent Houston history. Rice started with a 10-play drive that ended with a touchdown. No biggie. Then, Donovan Smith threw his first interception of the season, which immediately led to another Rice score. A quick three-and-out and Rice was in the end zone again to take a 21-0 lead before Houston had even run ten plays. 

Houston went into halftime trailing 28-7. Twitter said they were done. I thought they were done. But in the fourth quarter, something changed. A flip switch. Maybe it was Rice trying to protect the lead, or maybe Houston’s offense was finally coming alive, but Smith was finally able to move the ball and use his legs to score twice in the fourth, helping Houston score 28 unanswered points back on the Owls and force overtime.

The fact that Houston was even in a situation where they had to battle back is a problem for this team, but the fact that they did battle back is the silver lining in the loss. Tens of teams every week go down and never get back up off the mat, but Smith scoring twice with his arm and twice with his legs and willing his team to stay in the game was impressive enough for me to rethink him in the “Big 12 Quarterback Hierarchy”.


Sloppy Secondary 

But why was Houston in a position to have to battle back? And why did they lose in overtime? The answer is the secondary. Last week, the Cougars picked off UTSA’s Frank Harris three times. In the moment, I was impressed with the resiliency of the defense, but after tonight, I think it had more to do with Harris being on one leg and rusty from an offseason of knee surgeries. 

JT Daniels is a good quarterback (149 yards, a TD, and 2 INTs against UT last week), but Houston made him look USC, Georgia, and West Virginia all made a mistake letting him go. Daniels threw for 401 yards and three touchdowns, while completing 67% of his passes. Those are video game numbers. The Houston front did its job, recording two sacks and holding Rice to only 48 yards on the ground, but in the secondary, guys were running free all night. And when they weren’t running free, they were getting held for pass interference penalties.

The Big 12 is predicated on good quarterbacks and passing offenses. If Houston gave up 400 yards to Daniels, what is Quinn Ewers or Dillon Gabriel going to do to this team? 


Big 12 Comes to Town 

Houston enters Big 12 play 1-1 with the TCU Horned Frogs (1-1) coming to town. TCU took FCS Nicholls behind the barn in Week Two, winning 41-6 and exercising some of the demons from their embarrassing loss to Colorado on “prime time.” The TCU defense was challenged by good quarterback play and had a tough time stopping the run in week one. Houston’s Tony Mathis Jr. rushed for a team-high 60 yards, and Smith was able to use his legs as well, helping the Cougars rush for over 183 team yards. That should be a sign for Coach Holgorsen to pound the rock. 

The plan should be to make Chandler Morris uncomfortable in the pocket and try to bait him into a bad throw like the Colorado defense was able to do. If Houston’s secondary plays like they did against Rice, this could be a shootout for the record books.

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