Culture / Sporting Life

Dana Holgorsen Puts the Blame on Himself For This UH Downer, But Bringing the Excitement Back Will Not Be Easy

When a Sideline Scuffle Is One of the More Encouraging Things

BY // 09.18.22

With more than eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, large groups of University of Houston fans are heading for the TDECU Stadium exits, already eager to leave a frustrating afternoon behind. So much for the Big 12 preview. So much for the excitement of the home opener following a 12-2 season. So much for the buzz over this followup season of super expectations.

That’s all hightailing it for the exits too.

And you get the feeling that UH Dana Holgorsen knows it. Kansas 48, UH 30 is a Cougar red horror show, one of the more disappointing days of Holgorsen’s Houston run. The coach does not offer any excuses. He just takes the blame, puts it on himself really.

“There’s plenty of blame to go around,” Holgorsen says after seeing second year Kansas coach Lance Leipold move the oft-dismissed Jayhawks to 3-0. “I got out coached. He’s a heck of a football coach. We got out coached offensively and defensively. I’ll take it.”

It’s an admirable sentiment. Holgorsen is not shying away from taking on the burden of UH’s 1-2 start. But bringing the excitement back could prove to be a much more difficult task.

A home win over Rice next Saturday in the Bayou Bucket game isn’t going to do it. Even if there is a “trophy” on the line as Holgorsen points out. The reality of this transition season is that Houston does not have many chances to change the perception that these back-to-back losses to Big 12 foes leave. This season more than ever, UH football needed to give their fans reason to continue to believe.

Especially with a Big 12 debut season looming next fall in which the Cougars will not have the benefit of a fifth-year starting quarterback.

To pretend this is just another loss completely misses the context this program finds itself in. There are lot of dispirited University of Houston fans this morning — and not just the ones who left early.

“A whole bunch of stuff has got to change,” Holgorsen says. “We’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to somehow figure out how to stop that offense. We didn’t stop ’em. And we’ve got to score more. At the end of the day, a lot going on, put it on me.”

There are a lot of UH fans who will have no trouble putting it on a fourth-year coach no matter how lacking the program was when Holgorsen took over. The most encouraging sign from a long discouraging day, one that included a 69 minute lightning delay and saw Kansas rush for 280 yards while averaging 6.5 yards per carry, may be how many Cougars tried to take the blame. Or lost their minds over what was going on.

After Holgorsen took questions from reporters, UH senior tailback Ta’Zhawn Henry offered a defense of his coach without any prompting.

“I feel like this is not on Coach Holgorsen,” Henry says. “Everybody’s pointing fingers at Coach Holgorsen. But at the end of the day we’re the ones between the lines. We’re the ones playing, carrying the ball.

“It’s on us.”

Then there is USC transfer wide receiver Joseph Manjack IV, who gets so upset that fellow wideout Samuel Brown does not heed the all-week emphasis of not getting dumb penalties that he chases after Brown off the field and shoves him to the ground, creating a sideline altercation that needs to be broken up. It’s certainly not a great look for the TV cameras and Holgorsen is quick to say that Manjack handled it wrong. But it also shows just how much certain guys on this team are dying to win.

“At the end of the day, a lot going on, put it on me.” — UH coach Dana Holgorsen

In some ways, the sideline scuffle is one of the more encouraging signs from a lost afternoon. Manjack needs to be able to control his passion much better than that, but at least that passion is there.

You almost want more players to be that upset over this loss rather than just talking about the conference season being the most important thing in an almost rote, by the numbers manner.

“Joseph Manjack who’s a fierce competitor, is one of the hardest workers we’ve got, is a team guy — he’ll have a C on his chest at some point — he saw Sam (Brown) retaliate and was pissed,” Holgorsen says. “Because all we do is talk about not doing that.

“And we’ve got to continue to get that stuff out of our program. . . It’s my job to continue to harp on that and get our guys not to do it. Manjack took it upon himself to confront Sam, which was not the right thing to do.”

The University of Houston football team, led by head coach Dana Holgersen, held practice in their bubble.
University of Houston football came into this season trying to ride a wave of good momentum. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Doing the right things from here on out will not make Houston football nationally relevant this season. Not with the schedule that’s remaining. But it’s the only path Holgorsen and the Coogs have — and it’s certainly far better than the alternative.

“Everybody need to do their job,” Henry says. “Everybody just need to do their job. And we’ll be better.”

Henry certainly does his job, turning 20 touches into 164 yards and two touchdowns. But the truth is that this UH team is much closer to being 0-3 than 3-0. Even if the way it’s losing is changing.

After scoring only a combined 10 points in the first half through two games and 60 minutes of football, Holgorsen’s offense puts up 14 points in the first 7:42 of this game with Henry and USC transfer tailback Brandon Campbell scoring on 34 and 40 yard chunk plays. It is 14-0 Houston and everything seems right — and stabilized — in soggy TDECU Stadium.

Looks can be deceiving.

Kansas will rip off a 28-0 run that even a one hour and nine minute lightning delay cannot slow down. UH will score only 16 points itself in the last three and a half quarters combined.

Dana Holgorsen In the Spotlight

The UH players keep saying that Kansas didn’t do anything that surprised them. That the Jayhawks did what they prepared for all week. Whether that is encouraging or even more discouraging is a matter of debate.

“Everything they ran is what we worked on in practice,” UH edge rusher Derek Parish says.

When I ask if that makes it more frustrating, Parish simply shakes his head in the affirmative and offers a firm, “Very.”

In some ways, the sideline scuffle is one of the more encouraging signs from a lost afternoon.

Maybe this will all just be a blip in Dana Holgorsen’s University of Houston football resurrection one day. But on this lost Saturday at TDECU Stadium, that’s not so easy to see.

University of Houston Cougars lost to the Kansas Jayhawks in NCAA college football, Saturday at TDECU Stadium
UH running backs Brandon Campbell (20) and Ta’Zhawn Henry (4) must carry the ground game. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

When quarterback Clayton Tune hands the ball off inside the Kansas 5-yard line with the clock ticking inside six minutes remaining and the Cougars down 18 points, a large contingent of the UH fans left in the stadium break into loud boos. They’re not booing Tune.

After the game’s over, Dana Holgorsen is one of the last coaches on the field. He stays around to make sure his players get off the field and into the locker room. Which gives a few more fans who seem to be fueled by liquid courage a chance to call out him and try and grab his attention. Holgorsen just stands there by himself, a hand tucked in his pocket, largely expressionless, watching out for his guys.

Dana Holgorsen is not running from anything. For better or for worse. This is where UH football is.