The head coach has used “perplexing,” “pitiful” and “pathetic” this week to describe his team’s last Big 12 Conference outing.
Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy coming off a 45-3 loss to UCF?
Houston’s Dana Holgorsen coming off a 24-14 loss to Cincinnati.
“It was a pathetic performance offensively, especially in our passing game.” Holgorsen said this week on “The Matt Thomas Show” airing on Houston’s SportsTalk 790. “We’ve thrown the ball around pretty well here, but we were as inept as inept can get.”
So toss “inept” in there, too.
Sort of feels like OSU is catching Houston at the right time Saturday. Which is encouraging given the Cowboys’ own shortcomings their last time out in Orlando.
“The message I told them was that the team has a choice of how they react to situations like this,” Gundy said. “And then you hope that our culture is deep enough that our players will react and do well.”
OSU doing well inside TDECU Stadium depends on the rebound of one Cowboy in particular.
One player: Ollie Gordon
The Pokes’ prize coughed up a fumble which led to a UCF touchdown, dropped a pass at the UCF 10-yard line, had to make the tackle after one of Alan Bowman’s three interceptions, and sloshed his way to 25 yards on 12 carries.
The best players can have the worst games for whatever reason. Stuff happens. And if any Cowboy deserved a mulligan at UCF, it was the one who supercharged the five-game winning streak coming in.
There isn’t a soul attached to OSU football upset with Gordon.
What he must do is bounce back like he is angry at himself.
Bowman has shown the ability to tilt games – he led OSU’s Bedlam offense when OU loaded up to stop Gordon – but the UCF game showed the Cowboys shouldn’t expect that every week. This must still be Gordon’s offense, which means Saturday must be Gordon’s game.
That leads us back to Gordon’s rebound, and leaves us curious about any linger from UCF.
Not to worry, says one of Gordon’s primary blockers.
“He’s handled it well,” Braden Cassity said after practice Monday. “When we came into the facility today, there wasn’t a lot of sulking going on. It’s like, ‘OK we’re back to work right now. Nothing to worry about. Gotta keep just playin’ ball.’ That was the energy in the locker room.”
If the energy returns on game day, Gordon and OSU’s rushing attack should succeed. Houston’s run defense ranks 92nd in FBS.
One problem: The Cougars’ two causes
OSU, still very much a Big 12 title game contender, has more to play for than Houston. But it isn’t like the Cougars should go through the motions.
They need to win Saturday and then again at UCF next week to finish 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game. That is a publicized big deal.
“Everybody’s goal is a bowl game. I’m not gonna lie about that,” Holgorsen said this week. “That’s the standard everybody wants to be in. I don’t care if we’re year one (into Big 12 Conference membership) or year 10.”
The Cougars’ other motivator should be their head coach’s future.
From USA Today this week: “With Jimbo Fisher on his way out in College Station, Holgorsen’s seat likely becomes the hottest in Power Five.”
Gundy’s old pal had his construction job going strong two years ago, when Houston went 12-2 in Holgorsen’s third season, but the arc bends the wrong way now. The Coogs went 8-5 last year and are in serious danger of slipping to 4-8 this season, their record in Holgorsen’s first season of 2019.
If the Cougars enjoy playing for their coach, and want to keep playing for their coach, they need to do whatever it takes to turn 4-8 into 6-6 starting against OSU.
One preposterous prediction: Next stop … Happy Valley
Houston does not beat OSU or UCF. Cougars AD Chris Pezman, carrying a blank check signed by superbooster Tilman Fertitta, goes shopping for a new coach.
Holgorsen, forever on his own path, decides he’d rather coach next season than take a year to count his buyout money. Even if that means being an offensive coordinator again.
Word of that reaches Penn State, where James Franklin needs a play-caller after firing Mike Yurcich this week. Franklin, concerned about his own job security, considers Penn State’s place in a Big Ten Conference about to add offensive juggernauts Oregon, Washington and USC.
He sees Ohio State paying defensive coordinator Jim Knowles spare change shy of $2 million and ups the ante, offering Holgorsen the richest coordinator contract in the Big Ten.
“Ah, why not,” Holgorsen replies after one too many Red Bulls.
Thus completes a circle of life for three former Gundy lieutenants.
One pick: OSU 32, UofH 21