On a day when most of the country was experiencing unseasonably cold temperatures, Shreveport was not an exception. The temperatures hovered in the 20s all day as the Independence Bowl played out on Friday afternoon. Normally, it would have to be much colder to ground an aerial attack as prolific as Houston’s. But, Louisiana could not capitalize as Houston wins Independence Bowl in large part because of its defense, and some late-game heroics, by a score of 23-16.
Houston Wins Independence Bowl Without High-Flying Offense
This game had all the makings of a back-and-forth track meet. It really had a lot to do with Houston, who had one of the best offenses and worst defenses in the nation. And the game did start with a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive by the Ragin’ Cajuns. But it did chew up half of the first quarter. Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen, an air-raid disciple, then decided to run the ball six-consecutive times before even attempting a pass. The earliest sign that this game no longer had the potential for a track meet was when the first quarter ended, Houston had rushed nine times and only attempted three passes (two of which the quarterback was sacked on.)
Houston quarterback Clayton Tune finished his collegiate career today with an efficient performance, but nothing eye-popping. He was 19-for-28 passing for only 216 yards, but he did have three touchdowns and zero turnovers on the day. Meanwhile, his quarterbacking counterpart on the Louisiana sideline posted very similar numbers. Chandler Fields finished the game 17-for-25 passing for 169 yards, but only had one touchdown.
Evenly Matched Game Throughout
Looking at the stat sheet, there are multiple statistics that illustrate how close this game was from start to finish. Houston finished the game with 363 total yards of offense to Lousiana’s 323. The Cougars had 147 rushing yards compared to the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 129. Time of possession went the way of the Cougars by a whopping 42 seconds. Michael Desormeaux’s team lead the tackles-for-loss battle by a score of 6-5. However, there was one defining stat that was the difference in the game. It came in the form of turnovers. Lousiana finished the game with a total of three turnovers. But it was two second-half fumbles that were the deciding factor.
The first of which came on Lousiana’s first possession in the second half. Houston had taken the opening drive of the half down the field in 13-plays for a touchdown that cut the lead down to 16-13. On the second play on the ensuing drive, the Cajuns’ put the ball on the ground. The Cougars took over on the plus side of the field, looking to capitalize. And while Lousiana did get a 4th down stop on their own five-yard line, the field position battle was not in favor of Houston.
Lousiana Never Scored After Halftime
The Houston defense, which is worth repeating was awful this year, forced a three-and-out and the Cougars took over on Lousiana’s 33-yard line after a shanked punt. That resulted in a field goal tying the game with 13:40 left in the game. The true backbreaker for the Sun Belt representative came on their very next drive. The Cajuns’ worked the ball down to Houston’s five-yard line before fumbling it a second time with 8:32 left. They would never get a better scoring opportunity for the rest of the game.
It was in Houston’s last full possession of the game where they actually looked like the Houston offense we had been accustomed to seeing all season. Taking control of the ball on their own eight-yard line, and with two timeouts to work with, marched down the field in 2:39 and Tune found Nathaniel Dell for the game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds remaining in the game. Dell finished the game with six receptions for 44 yards and two touchdowns. In a way, this game was a perfect summation of the Cougar’s 2022 campaign. They appeared sleepwalking for stretches of the game, but in the end, their talent took over when it needed two and secure a victory to close out the year.
Photo courtesy of Brad Kemp; The Acadiana Advocate.