One of the few truisms that can be applied across all sports is that even the greatest teams need a bit of luck at one point during their season.
The 2011 Houston Cougar football team was the first (and at present time only) to have an undefeated regular season in program history. Whatever you think about what happened in the immediate aftermath of the regular season (and trust me we’ll get to that in this countdown) winning all 12 games was a huge achievement.
Looking up and down that year’s regular season results, you’ll see a lot of lopsided scores in UH’s favor, with a couple of exceptions.
One of those exceptions was a week 3 road trip to play Louisiana Tech. That night the Cougars dream season very nearly ended before it began.
Leading into the Game:
The Cougar fan base got the best news imaginable after a dreary 2010 season where both Case Keenum and his backup Cotton Turner suffered season ending injuries early in the year. In a rare showing of common sense, the NCAA granted Keenum a 6th year of eligibility.
Shockingly, the decision came in mid-January and gave Cougar fans a whole off season of excitement about one final year of Keenum slinging the ball and winning games.
There was at least some unknown of how Keenum would play after the recovery from his torn ACL. But any doubts were put to rest in the opener against UCLA where Keenum threw for 340 yards and completed 75% of his passes in a 38-34 Cougar win.
Up at North Texas the following week, Keenum threw for 458 yards and 5 touchdowns in only 3 quarters. Between Keenum and Turner, the Coogs nearly had a combined 563 pass yards. The absurd numbers of the week 2 win over North Texas would become almost commonplace by the end of this season.
If this team had fatal flaws, they hadn’t shown them to this point in the year. Although, you can only predict so much from a 2-game sample size.
The Bulldogs were in their 2nd year under head coach Sonny Dykes, son of legendary Texas Tech head coach Spike, and previously an Arizona and Texas Tech assistant. Dykes’ first year ended with a 5-7 record and 2011 didn’t look like it was going to be much better.
In a narrow season-opening loss at Southern Miss the Bulldogs only managed 244 total yards in 19-17 loss. The following week against Division 1-AA opponent Central Arkansas they gave up 42 points and needed overtime to escape with a win.
So far, the Bulldogs just looked like a team that had not exactly ‘put it all together’ although their upcoming game against Houston would be a tantalizing taste of what was to come for that program.
To say the Cougars ‘started slow’ in this game might be underselling it a bit. After looking unstoppable at times against UCLA and UNT, the Cougars could not get out of their own way.
The Coogs’ first offensive possession of the game was a ‘3 and out’ that gained 5 yards and took less than a minute off the game clock. The next possession was far more disastrous as the Coogs fumbled the punt and set up the Bulldogs to score 4 plays later and 8 yards later.
It wasn’t until 7:21 left in the 2nd quarter that the Coogs got on the board, via a 54-yard TD reception by RB Michael Hayes. The only other good news up to this point in the game was the Cougar defense had kept the Bulldog offense in check. UH only trailed 10-7 at this point with tons of game time left.
But after that first scoring drive, the Cougar offense got even worse. On their next 3 possessions the Coogs did the following:
· 3 yards, 9 plays- Punt.
· 5 plays, 19 yards- Punt.
· 1 play, 0 yards- Interception.
While the offense couldn’t get out of its own way, the Cougar defense was starting to show signs of strain. After that first UH touchdown drive, the Bulldogs scored on 4 of their next 5 possessions.
Louisiana Tech was winning this game by playing at a deliberate pace and keeping their offensive counterparts sitting on the sidelines and thinking about their bad game.
With 5:11 left in the 3rd quarter, the Bulldogs started with a short-field (from Keenum’s 2nd interception of the game) and finished with a 7-yard Ray Holley TD run, extending their lead to 34-7. To conceivably win this game, the Coogs would need 4 more touchdowns and nothing but stops from their defense in barely over 20 minutes of game time.
According to someone who would know (check out this week’s Pawdcast to find out who) Keenum used a choice word or two to address his teammates right around this time. The Cougars needed a touchdown quick to even maintain an outside hope of winning this game. And boy did they get it.
3 plays and 44 seconds later, the Cougar offense went 80 yards and Keenum found Patrick Edwards for a 50-yard TD reception. Making up the remaining 20-point deficit wouldn’t be easy, but this was a good first step in that direction.
The defense held up its end of the bargain, not allowing another Bulldog scoring drive for the rest of the game. On their next 2 possessions the Coogs scored 2 TDs (both Bryce Beall rushing TDs) and with 7:25 left in the game, the Coogs were only down 34-28.
After the Coogs cut the lead to 7, the Bulldogs' freshman QB Nick Isham (who in the present day makes overproduced adult alternative pop) threw an interception on the very next offensive play. This seemed tailor-made for a signature, game winning Keenum drive and yet the Coogs punted the ball back after a 3 & out and with only 5:40 left in the game.
The Bulldogs were able to bleed almost 3 minutes off the clock, but ultimately had to punt the ball back to the Coogs with more than enough time for one final drive.
Even though they got the ball with 2:46 left in the 4th, the Coogs didn’t need nearly that much time and scored just over a minute later via a Keenum 32-yard TD pass to his favorite target Edwards. The Coogs took their first lead of the night: 35-34, with just over a minute of game action left.
On 4th down with 2 yards to go, senior defensive captain Marcus McGraw tackled Lennon Creer a yard short of the line to gain.
Three kneel downs later, the Coogs escaped Ruston, Louisiana with a win.
The Coogs’ 27-point 2nd half comeback was the biggest in program history to this point. The previous leader was a 19-point come back at home over UTEP in Kevin Sumlin’s first season: 2008.
One of my favorite things from this game was the fact that it was the FIFTH time the Coogs won a game where Keenum started and the team had trailed with 2 minutes left in the game. Never let it be said that Case didn’t have a flare for the dramatic.
The Cougar defense didn’t have their best game, as they allowed the Bulldogs to rush for 233 yards. On the other side of the ball, Keenum had an uncharacteristic 2 interceptions but still finished with 351 pass yards. Justin Johnson also had 100 receiving yards for the Coogs.
For the rest of the regular season, Keenum only threw 1 interception and the Coogs would not find themselves in a similar predicament until a certain conference championship game…