At some point during August (although everything since March is kind of a morass) I decided to do a completely subjective ranking tweet of every Houston Cougar football season opener in the 21st century.
Some part of me wanted to turn this summary into a written piece. But there was enough up in the air about this college football season I figured the best time for such a trip down memory lane would be immediately prior to the 2020 opener.
Many other people have written previews of this weekend’s opener against North Texas and you should give them a read. Figuring I couldn’t add anything that our North Texas (again, definitely not Baylor) preview Pawdcast episode hadn’t already discussed, I decided this would be a better pregame written piece.
The first 4 or 5 of these openers predate my time as a dedicated Cougar fan, and with respect to Barrick Nealy’s impressive career debut performance vs Rice in 2002, I don’t think I am any worse off for this lack in life experience.
So, here’s every Cougar season opener, grouped in my incredibly subjective categories.
#15 Houston- 33, Oklahoma- 23 (2016) @ NRG Stadium
I probably don’t need to tell you too much about this one, but let’s re-live the memories for old time’s sake.
The Cougars came into the 2016 season off a shocking 2015 where the team went 13-1 and seemingly overnight under Tom Herman went from middling underachievement to an AAC championship and winning an NY6 bowl. Following the season, UH retained Herman while bringing in a hyped 2016 recruiting class that featured the biggest recruit in school history: 5-star defensive lineman Ed Oliver.
Oklahoma was fresh off a season where Baker Mayfield re-surfaced as one of college football’s most dynamic quarterbacks and the Sooners finished the season #5 after a playoff loss to Clemson. The game was moved to NRG Stadium and the 11 AM central time slot on ABC for a national audience. It was as hyped of a game as most Cougar fans under the age of 40 had ever experienced.
Somehow the game itself topped this hype, at least if you were a fan wearing red and white. The Sooners dominated early and if not for a red zone defensive stand the Coogs would have left the 1st quarter down 2 scores. It wasn’t a vintage offensive performance at any point, but the Cougar offense got out of its own way enough (along with the defense finding its footing) to take a 19-17 lead over the Sooners into the locker room at halftime.
It felt good to be hanging around with one of the sport’s best, but even with that halftime lead it didn’t feel like either team had any kind of edge or momentum. Then, about midway through the 3rd quarter Sooner kicker Austin Seibert trotted out to attempt a long field goal and, significantly, Cougar defensive back and return man extraordinaire Brandon Wilson took his position in the end zone to take advantage of a missed kick.
You certainly know what happens next. Seibert’s kick was short enough that Wilson was able to catch it in the back of the end zone and every Cougar fan at NRG Stadium went from “hey let’s see what happens here” to “OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD HE’S TAKING IT TO THE HOUSE” in under 2 seconds. Wilson’s ‘kick six’ return touchdown turned a situation that could’ve been a 20-19 Sooner lead into a 26-17 Cougar lead in a matter of moments.
On the very next drive Oklahoma’s Jarvis Baxter fumbled, it was recovered by Cougar LB Matthew Adams and the offense responded with its first touchdown since the early 2nd quarter as Greg Ward Jr found Tyler McCloskey for a TD pass with 2:15 left in the 3rd. The Coogs were now up 33-17 and even though 2 scores with a quarter left wouldn’t seem insurmountable, it was clear everybody in the stadium knew who was winning this game.
When the clock hit 0:00 the entirety of the Houston fan base was on ‘Cloud 9’. The program had won 15 of its last 16 games and was on the high of back-to-back wins over college football blue bloods, plus the still extant dream of Big 12 expansion adding the Cougars.
The subsequent months and years have been less kind, but none of that will take away from an incredible Saturday afternoon at the beginning of the 2016 college football season.
Genuinely Good and/or Fun Wins:
Houston- 38, UCLA- 34 (2011) @ Robertson Stadium
The 2010 season was supposed to be the culmination of a young core aging into being ready for the Cougars to cement their place in the top 25 and get some conference hardware in the process. The 2009 season was wild and volatile and as frustrating as the league title game loss to ECU and bowl game no-show against Air Force were, the team still felt ahead of schedule.
Then the dreams of 2010 turned to nightmares a few weeks into the season as UCLA not only demolished the Cougars on a Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, but also sent the team back to Houston with season ending injuries to Case Keenum and backup QB Cotton Turner. In some ways it felt like the offseason began that night, and with Keenum being granted a 6th year of eligibility for the 2011 season, an opening week rematch with UCLA at Robertson Stadium loomed large.
Any concerns about Keenum having lingering effects of the injury were put to rest by a 16 play, 80-yard opening touchdown drive. The Coogs looked like a team that had been itching all offseason to prove that the 5-7 record of 2010 wasn’t indicative of the talent on the roster, scoring on 5 of their 6 1st half possessions and going into the locker room up 31-14 on the Bruins.
It was a credit to head coach Rick Neuheisel and the Bruins that they did not let the bad 1st half and brutal early September Houston humidity keep them from hanging around. I remember specifically being apoplectic at various points in the 2nd half as Bruin QB Richard Brehaut, hardly a dual threat, carved up a Cougar defense that seemingly gave them 20 yards of open field to run into on every play.
The Coogs’ lead had been cut to 31-28 before an early 4th quarter drive into the UCLA red zone was capped off by veteran O lineman Chris Thompson falling on a fumbled Tyron Carrier reception in the end zone. The Coogs at that point had seemingly given themselves enough breathing room, but got a nice assist from UCLA kicker Kip Smith missing a 32 yard field goal on the very next possession.
It wasn’t a flawless performance, but it gave fans tangible evidence that the 2011 version of Houston Cougar football would be a memorable one.
Houston- 19, Arizona- 16 (2017) @ Arizona Stadium
With 2020 being the kind of year where a century’s worth of history has happened, it might be easy to forget what a rough start to the season off the field Cougar football had in 2017.
The city of Houston was hit by Hurricane Harvey the weekend prior to week 1 of college football, which saw record setting rainfall flood portions of the city to the point of being uninhabitable. It was an absolutely devastating storm and if I am going to give Major Applewhite credit for one solitary thing in his time as Cougar head coach, its how involved the team was in relief efforts in the aftermath of Harvey.
Naturally, the scheduled week 1 opener at UTSA was cancelled and the Cougars instead opened their season on the road at Arizona the following week. The Wildcats were coming off Rich Rodriguez’s first losing season as head man at Arizona, and the prior week demolished FCS in-state foe Northern Arizona.
This game might have the honor for most lackluster offensive performance involving a team coached by Rodriguez, one of the sport’s foremost offensive innovators. The Wildcats managed only a touchdown in their 6 1st half offensive possessions and QB Brandon Dawkins never really looked comfortable. One of the game’s ‘highlights’ was Dawkins missing an unbelievably open receiver in the end zone. Dawkins’ backup Khalil Tate (who’d go on to have a transcendent 2017 season) didn’t look much better when he went in the game.
On the other side of the ball, the Cougars only looked marginally better with Kyle Allen taking the reigns as starting QB. Allen showed 5-star arm talent on a 49-yard connection with Keith Corbin on what ended up being the first touchdown drive of the 2017 season. But the Cougar offense wasn’t able to muster a single scoring drive of any kind in the 2nd half and needed their defensive counterparts to bail them out for what ended up being an ugly, but not unimpressive road win over a PAC-12 foe off a tough few week stretch for the program.
That win was one of the few high points, arguably the most credible win to be sure, of the forgettable Applewhite era of Cougar football.
Houston- 31, Rice- 30 (2006) @ Rice Stadium
I feel entirely justified in putting this game here, because of what it meant to a Cougar program that in 2006 had improved enough to no longer be considered the laughing stock it was for most of the 1990s and early 00s. Key players like Kevin Kolb, Vincent Marshall, Jackie Battle and numerous others were going into their senior seasons and if head coach Art Briles was going to take this program any place his immediate predecessors didn’t, it was going to have to happen this season.
Rice finally cut ties with Ken Hatfield and the Triple Option after a dismal 2005 season and brought in up and coming assistant coach Todd Graham to revitalize the moribund Owls program. It was an open question how much Graham could change in 1 offseason, but there was more interest around the Rice program than there had been in while coming into this opening week contest.
You’ll find few people who follow the sport with a lower opinion of Briles than me at present time, but when a CSTV camera caught him in the locker room pregame telling that team “let’s put this s--t on paper” it was hard as a Cougar fan (and I’m sure player) not to get hyped.
Early on, this looked like it’d be a repeat of last year’s decisive Cougar win in the series. Kolb found his new junior college target Jeron Harvey for an opening drive passing TD and Jackie Battle added on a rushing TD later in the 1st. The Owls came out on fire in the 2nd quarter as Chase Clement threw 2 TD passes (including one to future All-American Jarett Dillard) and Quinton Smith accounted for 3 TDs in the quarter alone.
When Rice kicker Luke Juist hit a field goal just over halfway through the 3rd quarter to put the Owls up 30-14, I am sure the phrase “same old Coogs” was muttered darkly by numerous folks in red & white. Down 13 in the 4th quarter, rallying as they often would during the 2006 season, Kolb tossed TD passes to Marshall and backup RB Anthony Alridge on consecutive drives to put the Cougars in the lead for good, 31-30.
The Coogs effectively put the game on ice with an Ernest Miller interception later in the 4th quarter. Amusingly enough, the game was decided by a blocked Rice extra point at the end of the 2nd quarter. This Cougar win was the 4th in 5 games in the Bayou Bucket series and made a statement to start one of the more memorable Cougar football seasons this century.
At Least the Road Trip Was Memorable?
#7 Oklahoma- 49, Houston- 31 (2019)
Certainly optimism was higher in early September of the 2019 Cougar football season than it was a few months later. Though, realistic Cougar fans had to know that the Sooners coming off yet another Big 12 title and CFP appearance wouldn’t a walk-over. And unlike 2016, this game would not be played in the Cougars city with an overwhelmingly friendly crowd. Rather, this would be played at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium where the Sooners weren’t in the habit of losing that often.
Not to mention, even with the return of D’Eriq King and a good core of skill position talent under first year head coach Dana Holgorsen, this was a Cougar team with dramatically more questions than answers on defense going up against CFB offensive wunderkind Lincoln Riley and his new QB: grad transfer Jalen Hurts.
My co-host and I were fortunate enough to be able to drive up to Norman and experience the game day experience in person. And if I am going to remember anything about this game, it was one of the singular best game day experiences you can take in. A lot of the bigger name programs out there (looking at you, cow college in Austin) don’t have a game day experience to match their history, and that couldn’t be less true with Oklahoma. The stadium was loud and full at kickoff, with impressive sight lines even for those of us sitting in more ‘humble’ seats.
I can’t say there was much positive to remember about the game itself. At various points the Sooner offense looked like it might flirt with 1,000 total yards and the Coogs were never really in this game. I won’t go into a detailed recap of the game beyond the fact that Hurts had over 500 total yards just by himself in this one.
What I’ll remember most about this one was the unbelievable pregame and in-game atmosphere of seeing a game at OU, as opposed to the lopsided game outcome.
Oregon- 48, Houston- 27 (2007) @ Autzen Stadium
Nothing quite beats the many and numerous unknowns of our present time, but the 2007 Cougar football team had no shortage of unknowns. Gone were most, but not all, of the key offensive contributors from the 2006 C-USA championship team, most notably 4-year starting QB Kevin Kolb. The potential replacements for Kolb were strong-armed sophomore Blake Joseph, Kolb’s backup in ’06, and the great unknown of a redshirt freshman from Abilene named Case Keenum.
The Oregon Ducks, who had come to Houston for the 2005 season opener (more on that one later), at this point hadn’t developed into the sport’s most credible recent West Coast power but were a respectable PAC-10 program. One of the big storylines around the Ducks was the addition of OC Chip Kelly, who’d spent nearly the last decade re-writing the offensive record books of Division 1-AA power New Hampshire.
The game itself wasn’t short on offensive fireworks. Blake Joseph started the game at QB for the Cougars, but most of the offensive fireworks for the Coogs came from their running game. Anthony 'Quick Six' Alridge broke off a 60-yard TD run in the 2nd quarter to get the Cougars back within a score, and throughout the game Alridge would prove his awesome 2nd half of 2006 wasn’t a fluke.
On the other sideline, Ducks QB Dennis Dixon proved to be a perfect fit for Kelly’s new run-first, warp speed offense, rushing for 141 yards and throwing for 134 while the RB tandem of Jeremiah Johnson and future pro Jonathan Stewart combined for 137 rush yards.
Despite the 21-point final margin, this was a close game well into the 3rd quarter and could have gone differently had Keenum (on in relief of an ineffective Joseph) not been intercepted in the end zone by another future pro: Patrick Chung, with the game tied at 20.
The Ducks would cruise to a win in the 2nd half, but even in a loss this game was definitive evidence that Cougar football could be a pretty good team that season.
Beating a Bad Rice Team Is Better than Losing?
Houston- 45, Rice- 27 (2018) @ Rice Stadium
There’s a lot of competition for ‘hottest UH football game I’ve attended’ but I think the 2018 season opening Bayou Bucket game at Rice might take the cake. According to historical weather data, at the 11 AM kickoff the temperature in Houston was 82 degrees Fahrenheit with 88% humidity. That made me sweat just typing it out.
This game was so hot one of the referees (I believe the side judge) got carted off due to some combination of cramps and a heat stroke and didn’t return to the game. It was the kind of sadistic heat and humidity that makes me somewhat glad I currently live in a place that seldom tops 10% humidity.
But, enough weather talk. The Owls came into this game 1 game into the tenure of new head coach Mike Bloomgren, a former Stanford assistant. Bloomgren’s stated intentions were to bring the consistent success at a selective private institution and bruising run-first offense he’d coordinated at Stanford. The Owls had needed a game ending field goal to survive Prairie View A&M in week 0 of the season. The Cougars big offseason storylines were Major Applewhite handing over the offense to polarizing former Baylor and FAU assistant Kendal Briles, as well as all-universe defender Ed Oliver making it clear before the season that 2018 would be his last in college.
The Coogs were extremely slow out of gates in this one, not holding a lead at any point in the 1st half. Big plays from Marquez Stevenson and Courtney Lark disguised the fact that the Coogs could not consistently move the ball and went into halftime down 24-17 after a 10 play, 88-yard Rice scoring drive in the half’s final 2 minutes. The Cougar defense looked like it had regressed and for a half it looked like the younger Briles’ offensive acumen hadn’t traveled with him from Waco and Boca Raton.
I remember at the point where Rice kicked a field goal to go up 27-17 after a long drive in the middle of the 3rd quarter, that I was really convinced I’d driven 160 miles to watch my alma mater lose to Rice. Then, at the precise moment they needed to, the Cougar offense woke up and scored 28 unanswered points, all on drives of 5 plays or fewer to put the game out of reach. D’Eriq King looked like the offensive dynamo we thought he’d look like in Briles’ offense and Cougar fans could breathe a sigh of relief as a Rice upset wouldn’t be in the cards.
With the hindsight of the entire season now played out, I think this Rice game exposed the 2018 Cougar defense as being a total fraud (even before key guys got hurt) and the offense as being unbelievably fun and prolific when humming, but prone to breaking down at inopportune times.
Houston- 48, Rice- 14 (2003) @ Robertson Stadium
In late August 2003 at Robertson Stadium, Cougar football began an era that would eventually get the program out of a decade plus tailspin. Art Briles, a Cougar football alum and ultra-successful Texas high school football coach, decided to become the latest man to try and restore Cougar football to its previous glory.
The first piece of the puzzle was bringing in one-time Oklahoma State commit QB Kevin Kolb, who’d played for Briles at Stephenville High School. Kolb unsurprisingly won the starting job and in his first collegiate action threw for 246 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Owls. Kolb wasn’t the only freshman to make an impact, as Vincent Marshall had a team-high 8 receptions and Jackie Battle rushed for 47 yards and a touchdown.
The Coogs went into halftime up 31-7 and as impressively as anything they did on this day, held the Rice wishbone to a pedestrian 4.5 yards per carry. After Rice scored early in the 2nd quarter they didn’t find the end zone again until late in the 4th quarter when they were trailing by 41.
This ended up being the Coogs' most decisive Bayou Bucket win since the 1989 season.
Houston- 24, Rice- 10 (2002) @ Rice Stadium
To this point we have talked about a number of Cougar teams that came into their season with some kind of hype or expectation. I am not overstating it when I say that no team this century had lower expectations than the 2002 Houston Cougars. The 2001 team had gone winless for the first time in school history and looked every bit of one of the worst teams in the sport.
Credit 3rd year Cougar head coach Dana Dimel, coming off this awful season and starting to feel the heat for still going with promising redshirt freshman Barrick Nealy as his starting QB in the opening week. The Rice Owls were coming off an 8-4 season and looking to notch their 3rd straight win in the Bayou Bucket series.
The Cougar announced their presence quickly in this one, scoring touchdowns on 2 of their first 3 possessions, thanks to a Joffrey Reynolds TD run and Brandon Middleton TD reception from Nealy. Playing from behind, the Rice triple option offense could never get out of 1st gear and completed a horrific 8 of 27 passes and couldn’t break 200 yards rushing. The Owls didn’t find the end zone until the middle of the 4th quarter, with the game well out of hand.
I’d imagine Cougar fans at the time thought the game was a sign that UH was headed in the right direction after breaking a 15-game losing streak and dominating the cross-town rival. And while the program would eventually get back to the promised land, it wouldn’t happen with either Dimel (who lost his job later in 2002) or Nealy (who suffered a season ending injury during this season and the next spring transferred to Texas State).
Games that Deserve to be ‘Memory Holed’
Oregon- 38, Houston- 24 (2005) @ NRG Stadium
I remember watching some of this game on TV in my pre Cougar fan years and everything about it felt weird. Sure, Oregon was a solid middle of the PAC-10 program but why was this game being played in a 70-75% empty NRG (then, Reliant) Stadium? I’d imagine there were financial reasons for Cougar AD Dave Maggard to move the game, but putting 2 teams coming off losing seasons in a mostly empty pro stadium just seemed off.
The first quarter featured a ton of offensive fireworks as Kevin Kolb tossed 2 TD passes and the Coogs ended the first 15 minutes up 21-14 on the Ducks. It was all downhill from there as the Coogs didn’t score a single point until their final possession of the game and let future NFL backup QB extraordinaire Kellen Clemens throw for 348 yards and led the Ducks in rushing.
This game was confirmation that junior year Kolb had gotten over a sophomore slump of a 2004 season and was leading an improved Cougar team… just not one close to a finished product yet.
Rice- 30, Houston- 27, OT (2000) @ Rice Stadium
If you read an article or 2 about Dana Dimel when he was hired at the end of 1999, its easy to see how the UH athletics administration talked themselves into that hire. Dimel was part of one of the sport’s biggest turnarounds as an assistant coach at Kansas State and won 22 games in 3 years at Wyoming, where he was Division 1-A’s youngest head coach.
One game isn’t a warning sign, but his first game as head coach against Rice might have given Cougars an idea that it wouldn’t be all sunshine and roses under Dimel, specifically his team’s ability (or inability) to close out games.
Game time temperatures peaked at 102 (knowing Houston, with humidity around 80%) and despite these brutal conditions the Coogs were able to get to a 17-10 4th quarter lead. But Owls backup QB Corey Evans engineered a touchdown drive to tie the game up with just under 3 minutes left and on the next possession Rice blocked the Cougar punt and recovered it in the end zone to take the lead.
Veteran Cougar starting QB Jason McKinley did have some heroics in him as he engineered a game tying touchdown drive that ended with McKinley finding Brian Robinson on a 6-yard TD pass with 39 seconds left. Unfortunately, all the Coogs could muster in OT was a field goal and Rice closed out the win with a 1-yard TD run from freshman RB Robbie Beck.
If you are someone who sweated out a good chunk of your body weight to watch this one, you have my eternal admiration.
Rice- 21, Houston- 14 (2001) @ Robertson Stadium
If you’ve read this far and/or have a decent grasp on the history of UH football, you’ll know that 2001 was the program’s lone winless season. When I went back to review this game, I was surprised that the final score was relatively close.
The ’01 Rice team was that program’s last good(ish) team under head coach Ken Hatfield, so I expected that they had thrashed the Coogs like most every other opponent did that year. In fact, 9 of the Coogs’ 11 defeats in '01 were by at least 14 points. But to call this game ‘close’ is deceptive. Rice was up 14-0 until the Cougars found the end zone late in the 3rd quarter.
The Coogs were never able to get on track offensively with new starting QB Kelly Robertson and a running game so anemic it generated 7 total rushing yards on 21 carries. Robertson was only somewhat better, completing 22 of 47 passes for 192 yards. That’s one of those common themes I’ve noticed in reviewing the awful ’01 Cougar game results, there were always lots pass attempts for surprisingly few yards.
Rice eventually got their lead back to 2 scores with a Robbie Beck rushing TD in the middle of the 4th, part of a 354-yard rushing day for the Owls’ option offense. The Coogs made it interesting late with a Robertson TD pass to Brian Robinson, but the Owls ultimately prevailed to win their 4th Bayou Bucket game in the prior 6 games at this point.
This game wasn’t the nadir of Cougar football, but certainly the beginning of a season long nadir.
Division 1-FCS (1-AA) Opponents:
Houston- 52, Tennessee Tech- 24 (2015) @ TDECU Stadium
The first game of the Tom Herman era and while this game was an expected decisive result, it shouldn’t have given anyone wild optimism about the 2015 edition of Cougar football.
The Cougar offense and newly reaffirmed starting QB Greg Ward Jr piled up 621 yards on the Golden Eagles and the win never looked in doubt. But those who have rosy memories about the awesome 2015 Cougar defense might be surprised to remember that TTU passed for over 300 yards in this one.
Certainly this was the least memorable game out of an incredibly memorable season.
Houston- 62, Southern- 13 (2013) @ NRG Stadium
I remember drinking a Blue Moon beer for the first time before this game, kicking off an 8 to 9-month period where I actually liked and regularly drank Blue Moon.
This was also the beginning of Cougar football’s ‘season in the wilderness’ playing games away from campus while TDECU Stadium was built. After the unholy mess that was the Cougar offense in 2012, I think we all wanted to use this game as a positive data point that new OC Doug Meacham had this unit in a better place than it was a year prior. That wasn't all wrong, either.
I also vaguely remember David Piland rolling out of the pocket in this one, seeing nobody open doing a sort of ‘chest pass’ with the ball out of bounds that prompted me and my group of friends to all exchange nervous looks.
The Coogs won by a lot, as expected.
Houston- 68, Texas State- 28 (2010) @ Robertson Stadium
Apparently the 2010 season opener was the largest crowd to that point to ever see a game at Robertson Stadium. I guess that makes sense considering that even with the disappointing finish to 2009 how exciting and ‘ahead of schedule’ that team was, in retrospect.
The Coogs scored 54 (!!!) 1st half points, despite Case Keenum throwing a somewhat uncharacteristic 2 interceptions against the lower level Bobcats. Keenum threw for 274 yards in only 2 quarters of football, ceding the 2nd half to backup Cotton Turner.
Some other offensive facts from this game:
· Austin Elrod was the leading Cougar rusher with 52 yards on 1 carry (a healthy 52.0 ypc)
· 5 different Cougars caught a TD pass
· The first 12 offensive possessions for the Cougars ended in either a touchdown or an interception
Suffice it to say, this was a much better time than the other Texas State opener in this list.
Houston- 55, Northwestern State- 7 (2009) @ Robertson Stadium
For some reason I remember Sumlin hyping up Northwestern State’s first year head coach Bradley Dale Peveto (how many coaches out there go by 3 names, anyway?).
But NSU won 0 games this season and the Cougars won this game by a lot.
Houston- 55, Southern- 3 (2008) @ Robertson Stadium
This was the first game of the Kevin Sumlin era and there was nothing memorable about it for me, except for I believe Southern’s placekicker moving his practice net on their sideline because he was tired of being heckled by my group of friends.
The Coogs won this game by a bunch and I don’t know if there’s anything else noteworthy to say about it, except that I am sure Southern’s incredible “Human Jukebox” band blew the doors off during halftime.
Genuine Bad Times:
Rice- 10, Houston- 7 (2004) @ NRG Stadium
I wasn’t even a Cougar fan and I remembered there being some hype around this one.
Sure, the Coogs’ 2003 season achievements pale in comparison to the program’s historic high points, but it was the most life and excitement the program had shown since back to the Run & Shoot days. The Coogs weren’t perfect, but they were at least exciting and returned a lot of the core of the 2003 team. This analysis certainly overlooked the loss of key guys on both lines and (among others) the loss of Brandon Middleton, the team’s most explosive receiving threat the prior 2 years.
You could blame Cougar fans, still remembering the absolute shellacking their team gave the Owls in 2003, for having some confidence. What they saw at then-Reliant Stadium was a far cry from the previous year’s result.
You can’t criticize the effort of the Cougar defense in this one. They held the Owls’ offense to 158 yards rushing on 2.9 yards per carry. That might be the best defensive effort of all the Bayou Bucket season openers I’ve written about here. But the effort was all for naught, considering the Coogs rushed for ZERO POINT TWO (0.2) yards per carry and didn’t even get on the scoreboard until a Kevin Kolb TD pass to Vincent Marshall with 9 seconds left in the game.
This wasn’t even necessarily a Kolb problem. While his final stat line wasn’t pretty (15 of 33 for 204 passing yards) he was also sacked 9 times by Owl defenders, which certainly tells a story.
I put this in the tier of most unpleasant Cougar openers, because it sounds actively painful to have watched the entirety of. It was certainly a warning sign, as 2004 would be Briles’ only losing season at Houston.
UTSA- 27, Houston- 7 (2014) @ TDECU Stadium
The more I look back on the TDECU Stadium season opening loss to UTSA, the less it feels like a brutal gut punch loss and the more it feels like tragic comedy.
Sure, there were signs that the vastly improved 2013 Cougar team got the benefit of some statistically unlikely outcomes (e.g. John O’ Korn having fewer balls intercepted than he should have and the Cougar defense recovering more fumbles than statistically probable). But I know I figured these statistical anomalies would be counter balanced by the 2014 team being vastly more experienced than the previous year.
There was enormous excitement around the debut of the new, on-campus TDECU Stadium. Although I remember as an undergrad at the time, the unholy cluster that was getting students in the game. It was as if UH athletics didn’t expect or have the ability to deal with a larger than average number of the student body wanting to attend the season opener in a new stadium. The line to get into the game for student admission stretched almost to Hofheinz Pavilion and I waited at least an hour and a half until finally getting in around mid-1st quarter. In retrospect, missing some of this game was fortuitous.
Despite having nearly a full season as the starting QB under his belt John O’Korn looked like he’d been plucked from the stands and asked to play QB as a special promotion. I don’t like hyperbole, but O’Korn’s performance against UTSA was the absolute worst I’ve ever seen in person from a Cougar QB. His final line was: 21 of 43 for 204 yards passing, 0 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
The Cougar running game was also anemic, with the top 2 RBs totaling 35 yards rushing.
UTSA’s offense didn’t even have a great night, as the Roadrunners finished with 121 yards passing and leading rusher David Glasco II averaged only 3.2 yards per carry. But they didn’t have to be excellent, all they needed to do was take care of the ball and take advantage of the short fields they were repeatedly given.
The 20-point final deficit doesn’t nearly do justice to what a demolition this game was. When you look up the definition of ‘garbage time’ it’s the end of game TD the Cougars scored with about a minute left to avoid getting shut out by a program that didn’t even have a team 5 years earlier.
There were things Tony Levine could have done to save his job after this game, but this game (the 2nd such humiliating home opener loss in 3 years) made Levine’s long-term future as UH head coach almost an impossible thought.
Texas State- 30, Houston- 13 (2012) @ Robertson Stadium
Absolutely not. Not re-living this one any more than I must, after all that re-living of the 2014 opener.
Texas State, in their first Division 1-FBS (1-A) game, thoroughly stomped UH to the point where Tony Levine parted ways with then-OC Mike Nesbitt after 1 total game.
You can’t get much lower than a thrashing at the hands of Dennis Franchione and a team that came into the game as a several touchdown underdog.