Perhaps it was playing before a record crowd crammed inside of TDECU Stadium. Maybe it was playing a 8-1 Memphis football team that was the best opponent the University of Houston had faced the entire season. It could be as simple as sideline guests JJ Watt and DeAndre Hopkins contaminating the Cougars with the crapiness of the Houston Texans.The Good: Kyle Postma. He completed 21 of 33 passes for 236, a touchdown and no interceptions. He also rushed for 49 yards and another TD. Demarcus Ayers led all receivers with 13 receptions for 127 yards. While the Memphis defense managed to hold the Cougar ground attack to less than 100 yards, they still managed to give up four rushing TDs. Houston's defense had a rough day, but still forced two turnovers and, at games' end, keep Memphis at the very edge of Elliot's field goal range, resulting in the game-saving miss.
No matter the reason, for the first 29 minutes of the Saturday night’s game, the Cougars weren't playing like an undefeated college football team. Down 20-0, having gained just 24 yards on offense with only four first downs for the game, the Cougars appeared dead in the water. Then quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. was knocked out of the game, and under backup Kyle Postma, the offense sprang to life, scoring on a 30-yard pass from Postma to Linell Bonner just before the half.
Still the Cougars were down 34-14 with 14 minutes remaining in the game and hopes of the perfect season, the conference title, and a New Year’s Bowl were rapidly falling away. Of the 282 teams that have trailed by at least 20 points in the fourth quarter, none have come back to the win, and UH was positioned to become number 283. But as the clock reached zero, after the 48-yard field goal attempt of Memphis’ Jake Elliott went wide right, the Cougars were the somewhat miraculous 35-34 victors to go 10-0 on the season. (See our slideshow of photos from the game here.)
The Bad: Greg Ward Jr had perhaps his worst start at QB (fortunately, his ankle injury isn't serious). Memphis gained 278 yards through the air - Tiger QB Paxton Lynch was 20-for-32 passing with two touchdowns and an interception - and 212 yards on the ground. They manhandled Houston's defensive line and converted 12 of 19 third downs. Houston receivers dropped several catchable passes.
The Ugly: There's really no other way to describe the first half. The Tigers had Ward rattled and the running game contained; Houston's first six possessions all ended in punts. In the second half, Memphis defender Reggis Ball purposely tried to injure Ayers by twisting his leg after a play was whistled dead. This thug move should have gotten him ejected, but the referees didn't even see it. In fact, the officiating of this game was blatantly one-sided, with many calls (or non-calls) benefitting the Tigers.
The Beautiful: 42,159 was the largest on-campus crowd in the history of University of Houston football. The fans were loud, and the overwhelming majority stayed until the end even though things looked bleak on more than one occasion. I would like to think that this game represents a turning point in terms of this city's support of Cougar football.
What it means:
It was probably a game the Cougars should have lost. It was definitely a game that, in recent years past, the Cougars would have lost. But Herman’s got this team believing that it can do anything. And it’s a team that’s dealt with lots of adversity this season — the offensive line has been hit by injury after injury, Postma started the season as a back-up wide receiver, key contributors on defense were missing this game because of injury, the receiver and running back cops are decimated by injury, and yet the Cougars found a way to pull out the win, go to 10-0 on the season. And yet all that matters for Herman is winning the conference title.The conference title is still a few steps away, but it became much more realistic after last Saturday's miraculous finish. Next up for the Coogs is their first-ever trip to Storrs, Connecticut to face the Huskies. Trap game, anyone?