Beyond the box score: Regressing in the second half of the season

A pick-six. A safety. A blocked PAT. A quarterback that throws a TD, runs for a TD, and catches a TD.

The Houston Cougars pulled out all the tricks and quirky plays Saturday and still lost by two scores. Could have been by three scores, but the DB that intercepted Donovan Smith wisely fell to the ground (UH had an illegal formation on the play, too).

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The Cowboys accepted 10 UH penalties. Two of those were 12 men in the huddle, a seemingly impossible occurrence in the 11th game of the season. That’s poor coaching, plain and simple.

Dana Holgorsen is now 14-13 at home as UH coach. UH has had a .500 or worse record at home in four of Dana’s five years. The 2021 team went 5-0, meaning the other four teams combined to win nine games at home.

Including games at NRG and Rice, Holgorsen is 15-16 in Houston.

UH was 4-6 this year in Texas and 18-20 in Dana’s tenure. That’s aided by a 6-1 year in 2021; UH has had a losing record in Texas every other year.

UH is 126th nationally in 3rd down defense, giving up 48.6%. To compare, Mark D’Onofrio’s atrocious 2018 defense gave up 44.5 before he was fired.

And to blame that on the Big 12 is spurious. Against current and former AAC members (UTSA, Rice, Cincinnati), UH gave up 47.5%. Extrapolate that to the entire season, and it would be 123rd place.

A sizeable pro-Oklahoma State contingent helped Saturday’s crowd. // Photo © 2023 by Mario Puente

UH is 10-22 against teams .500 or better in the last five seasons. That number could reach 10-25 if UCF, TCU, and Rice win on Thanksgiving weekend.

Houston is 2-16 vs. current Big 12 members.

UH had just 18 first downs, a week after 12 first downs against Cincinnati. Three of those 30 first downs came via penalty.

The Coogs had 18 first downs in regulation at Baylor and 11 at KState. So the Cougars have averaged about six first downs less in the last four games than they did through the UT game.

The last time UH ran over 59 plays was UT. Houston has snapped it 59, 59, 51, and 58 times in the last four weeks. To put that in perspective, Kim Helton told me 25 years ago that he expected 63-67 snaps. That was before the offensive revolution.

The last four opponents have averaged 15.0 more plays run per game. In those four weeks, opponents have averaged 419 yards to UH’s 303.5 yards.

Rice and Sam Houston are the only two games Houston has outrushed an opponent. UH outgained those two 369-121. The other nine games, including UTSA, 1679-961.

In the first six games of the year, Donovan Smith completed 146 passes with three interceptions. In the last five games, he’s completed 99 with 9 interceptions.


Stewart J. Guss, Injury Accident Lawyers, is proud to be a corporate sponsor as the Official Personal Injury Law Firm for the University of Houston Athletics.

“As a University of Houston alum, I am honored that the University of Houston Athletics chose our firm to be their official and exclusive personal injury law firm,” says Stewart J. Guss, the firm’s founder.