Five years ago, the Houston Cougars beat Tulane 48-17 at TDECU Stadium. But the game was the 3rd biggest storyline of the night.
On 2nd and goal just before halftime, D’Eriq King handed it off but tore his meniscus in a non-contact move, ending his season. King came to the sideline to tell the staff of the injury. Those few words were the beginning of the end for head coach Major Applewhite.
UH called timeout to address the situation and was forced to insert Clayton Tune at QB. That changed King’s and Tune’s trajectories as Clayton would start over 40 games before being drafted and King just four more before shutting down his UH career and transferring.
On 3rd down, Tune threw a TD pass that was brought back for offensive pass interference, then missed on his next attempt. UH missed a field goal on 4th down but got another shot because Tulane was offsides. Dalton Witherspoon made it, and the Coogs were up 31-9.
After UH kicked a field goal and the Frontiersmen were ringing the bell, Major caused a national stir. ESPN cameras caught him arguing with Ed Oliver over a coat. Applewhite sought confrontation, fuming about King’s injury and missing out on a TD to the two-yard line. Major went over to Oliver and tried to take his coat off.
Applewhite knew that Oliver had been running around, jumping, and catching passes in the pregame despite having an “injured” knee. Major insists the full-length team-issued coats were only for players active in the game, but the sidelined Oliver had one on.
The incident was a microcosm of Applewhite’s foundering leadership of the program and started his ultimate fall.
When the team walked to the locker room at halftime, Oliver began screaming at Major. ESPN also caught this, and sideline reporter Laura Rutledge was broadcasting it at the start of the second half.
After halftime, Oliver did not return to the sideline and later called the incident a “misunderstanding” and “not who I am.” He vowed to move forward and played the first half the following week at Memphis. He did not play after the half, shutting down his college career for good.
The week after the Memphis game, Applewhite fired his defensive coordinator, Mark D’Onofrio, while UH signed OC Kendal Briles and OL coach Randy Clement to an extension. Two weeks after GoCoogs.com broke the extension news, Briles agreed to become the OC at Florida State but stayed with the Cougars through the bowl game.
On December 22, UH gave up 491 yards rushing and 8 TDs on the ground in a historic loss to Army, 70-14. Briles was off to Tallahassee, Oliver to the NFL, King was in rehab, Applewhite would be fired within a week, and Dana Holgorsen was hired to clean up the mess.