There was something in the air around the 2006 Houston Cougar football team that was different from many years prior. It was tough to put your finger on exactly what was different, but even early in the season as a Cougar fan you could sense that it was there.
Our choice for #18 in this countdown of the 19 most significant Cougar games this century was maybe the earliest data point of a fan base truly ‘buying in’ on a team and a season this century.
This was one of my first game experiences as a fledgling Cougar fan. I attended with my best friend from high school Matt, who was a current UH student.
I am not saying this soggy and humid late September night game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys is what sold me on becoming a serious Cougar fan, but it certainly sealed the deal for me and I'm sure a few others.
Leading into the Game:
This game fell on the 4th week of the college football season. Hosting a Big 12 opponent made the game a hotter ticket than average and the fact that the game was picked up CSTV (RIP, CSTV) ensured both fan bases wouldn’t have to bake in the teeth of Houston summer. Instead, this was an 8 PM kickoff.
The Coogs came into this one with a 3-0 record, the highlight being an opening week 31-30 win over the Rice Owls. A 1-point win over Rice may not seem like a notable achievement but winning at Rice Stadium was not something the Cougars did often at the time. That ’06 Owls team ended up breaking the school’s 45-year bowl drought and finishing the year 7-5.
When a CSTV camera crew caught Cougar head coach Art Briles yelling at his team before week 1 to “put that shit on paper” it became kind of a rallying cry.
Coming into this game the Coogs’ senior QB Kevin Kolb was the NCAA active leader in completed passes, passing yards and touchdowns.
Kolb was a product of the same Stephenville High School where Briles had made his name as a coach. He won the starting job before his true freshman season and never let go. He was also surrounded by a veteran supporting cast, highlighted by a couple other seniors: RB Jackie Battle and WR/return man Vincent Marshall.
Admittedly though, the Coogs’ early schedule wasn’t going to turn too many heads. After the narrow road win over Rice, the Coogs decisively beat a Tulane team feeling the immediate effects of Hurricane Katrina and Grambling State. Just by name recognition alone, Oklahoma State was one of the biggest games on the 2006 schedule.
The Cowboys had done well enough in recent years, relative to the program’s history, that previous head coach Les Miles was hired to replace Nick Saban at LSU after the 2004 season. Miles’ replacement was about the most Oklahoma State guy you could imagine: Mike Gundy.
Gundy was an OSU QB from 1986-89, including being the starter when Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas wrecked havoc on opposing defenses. He was also Miles’ offensive coordinator from 2001-04 and coached at OSU in a previous stint from 1990-95.
The first season of Gundy as the head coach was a rough ride, as he was forced to kick off 11 players prior to the season and the Cowboys finished last in the Big 12 South division with a 4-7 record. One upside was Gundy got to give some game time that year to QB Bobby Reid, one of the biggest recruits in OSU history.
Reid came from Houston and won the 2003 Texas 5A state championship for a North Shore High School team that is still among the best to ever come out of the area. At the time of this game Reid was a redshirt sophomore and had won the starting job for the 2006 season.
This was a Cougar team looking to prove they were finally worthy of some hype against a Cowboy team with a potential star at QB playing in his hometown.
An 8:10 PM kickoff and some rainy weather didn’t keep a good crowd from showing up to Robertson Stadium to see this one. These were humbler days for Cougar football, so yes just over 28,000 announced (with a good % of OSU fans) did represent a good crowd in those days. In fact, to date this was the 3rd largest crowd in Robertson Stadium history.
Both fan bases were treated to some early offensive fireworks, as the Coogs got into the end zone first courtesy of a 42-yard Kolb TD pass to Donnie Avery. The Cowboys responded almost immediately with a 75-yard TD pass from Reid to Adarius Bowman.
It was pretty neck and neck throughout, though the Coogs finished the opening half stronger with 14 unanswered points from TD receptions by Mark Hafner and Vincent Marshall.
The last TD reception by Marshall nearly didn’t happen. Earlier in that drive it looked like the Coogs had lost the ball on a called fumble by Jeron Harvey that OSU recovered. Briles challenged the call on the field and after video review it was ruled that Harvey’s forward progress had been stopped and the Coogs kept the ball.
Just four plays later and with 3 seconds left in the half, Marshall caught a TD pass to send the home team to the locker room with the lead and in some small way changed the momentum of this game.
Both teams’ offenses cooled down a bit after halftime, but on their first possession the Coogs were able to extend the lead to 2 possessions with a 10-play, 5+ minute drive that ended in a Ben Bell field goal.
The Cowboys didn’t go quietly into the night though. On the very next possession they scored in less than 2 minutes courtesy of D’Juan Woods catching a 26-yard TD pass from Reid. A subsequent 2-point conversion cut the UH lead to 27-25, but those would be the last points OSU scored.
This game was won on the very next possession by the Coogs courtesy of a 13 play, 79-yard drive. It spanned 7 minutes from the end of the 3rd quarter through the early 4th, capped by a Biren Ealy 7-yard TD reception on 3rd down & Goal.
Nobody else scored and the game finished as a 34-25 Cougar win. Kolb’s 313 passing yard and 4 TD performance was obviously the offensive highlight, though Jackie Battle’s 108 rush yards (34 on the final TD drive) were critical to the victory.
The Cougar defense did absorb 446 total yards from the Cowboys, though Marquay Love (another one of the team’s senior leaders) and Brandon Brinkley both recovered fumbles.
In a losing effort Reid had 281 yards passing (on only 13 completions!) and a team-high 85 rush yards. Though Reid would become most famous for losing his starting job (and Gundy’s accompanying rant) on this night his performance was quite good.
More than any individual player’s performance, the thing I remember most from being at this one was a rain-soaked and delirious student crowd rushing the Robertson Stadium field.
Factually, it was a home win over a lower-tier Big 12 team that had gone 4-7 the year before. But something started to feel different at Cougar games after that point. It was a sense of belief from the fanbase and the team that this Cougar football should no longer an afterthought on their own campus.
The lone downer from this game was the Coogs’ mammoth offensive tackle SirVincent Rogers leaving the game injured and missing the rest of 2006 (and all of 2007) with a knee injury.
Believe it or not, the Coogs actually went into a slump after this big, profile raising win. In the subsequent 3 weeks the Coogs lost at Miami, home to UL-Lafayette and at Southern Miss by a total of 8 points.
After that stretch though the Coogs did not lose again in the 2006 regular season. This led to a rematch with Southern Miss for the Conference USA championship that the Coogs won decisively.
If you ask any Cougar fan who was around for the 2006 season about the highlight of that year, it would certainly be the CUSA championship game (which will appear later in this countdown). But I would venture to guess though that the win over OSU would be the clear #2 choice for many people.
In Briles’ first 3 years (2003-05) the program became respectable again. But this win signaled that this team was capable of far more than just exceeding the laughably low standards of the previous decade and a half.