Tom Herman spent the hours following Houston’s first loss of the season filling a notebook with pages of thoughts.
Where can he improve? What about his staff? The players?
“This was a first for me,” Herman said with a shrug on Monday.
He sought confirmation from his mentors–Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, former Texas coach Mack Brown and Rice’s David Bailiff–about how to handle the loss.
He’s now 10-1 as a head coach, but when the soul searching was done, he liked what he saw.
“I would be concerned had we not played hard,” Herman said. “We played really, really hard.”
Houston is still the same team that beat Vanderbilt 34-0, handing the Commodores their worst loss of the season. The Cougars are the same team that beat Louisville by three, the same margin as No. 1 Clemson.
“We don’t like losing around here. It’s eye-opening. You go into complete introspection mode when you lose a game like that and you ask a million questions of yourself and what you could have done better,” Herman said. “You pick yourself up and go to work on improving those things.”
The good news is, though an undefeated season is out of reach, the team’s chief goal is not. No. 16. Navy comes to TDECU Stadium on Friday morning to play a game that will decide The American’s West division.
“We’ve won four games against teams that were more talented than us,” Herman said. “What these guys do is play really stinkin’ hard.”
As for going O-fer in the loss column? It’s unfair to call that a dream anyway.
“Nowhere on our goals did it say we wanted to go 12-0,” Herman said. “We’ve got a one-game season for the right to represent the West in that championship game.”
Houston began preparing for Navy’s triple-option attack way back in the spring. Every third day in preseason camp, the Cougars devoted time for the defense to get used to defending the triple option. So far this season, the Midshipmen have used 32 different pre-snap formations.
Every Sunday, Houston spends about 10-15 minutes without pads preparing to defend what quarterback Keenan Reynolds and Ken Niumatalolo challenge defenses with from those formations.
“If we don’t have a great week of preparation, we’ll have let UConn beat us twice,” Herman said, “and we can’t let that happen.”
The undefeated season is gone, but a conference title and New Year’s Six bowl game are still within reach.
“There’s only two (undefeated teams left) out of 128 right now,” Herman said. “It just doesn’t happen very much.”
This week, Herman drew on his experience a year ago when Ohio State suffered a loss and continued a run to the national title. This week, the task is clear: Make sure UConn is the only team that can say it knocked off Houston in 2015.
“Sometimes if used properly, losing can help you grow and help you learn,” Herman said.