Applewhite approached Oliver, who has missed four consecutive games because of an injured knee, on the Houston sideline before halftime and removed the lineman's jacket from his shoulder. Oliver could then be seen shouting at Applewhite as the team walked toward its locker room at halftime and was restrained by Houston director of sports performance Rod Grace.
Applewhite said after the game that Oliver left the locker room and that he hadn't spoken to him since, but he emphasized that he wanted the Outland Trophy winner back.
"I love him, I want him to be a part of our team, I want him to be with our team," Applewhite said. "You'd be amazed how many emotional things you deal with all the time with players. This is just one that you see. But we deal with things like this all the time as coaches. That's part of our job."
Applewhite said the team has a rule regarding the jackets. He doesn't want players wearing them much -- regardless of whether they are playing -- and he wanted to treat Oliver equally. He said Oliver became "emotional" after Applewhite asked him to remove the jacket.
"We just have a rule on the sideline that guys who are participating in the games and specifically starters, that they have jackets so they can stay [warm]," Applewhite said. "As a coach who has coached and played for years, you don't want a thousand guys in jackets when it's only 50 degrees outside. You want guys to stand up, be off the bench, be tough, and some guys had them early on. I asked them to take them off ... and Ed had one, so I asked him to take it off because I don't want to be unfair and unequal to the other guys, and you know, he got emotional. But he's young. And that's what happens. And he's not playing, and that's hard and that's difficult. I don't hold anything against anyone."
Oliver, who is widely considered to be a top-10 pick in the 2019 NFL draft, has missed the past four games after suffering a right knee injury Oct. 20 against Navy. He attempted to play Nov. 3 against SMU and the team announced he would play, but Oliver did not feel comfortable on the knee after participating in pregame warm-ups and opted not to play.
Oliver has 51 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss this season but recently fell from No. 2 overall to No. 7 on Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest Big Board after missing a month of action. Oliver announced in March that he would forgo his senior season for the draft.
Applewhite said Monday that Oliver would not practice until he felt healthy enough to play. Despite Thursday's sideline incident, Applewhite said he'll welcome back Oliver with open arms, leaving the door open for him to play in Houston's regular-season finale at Memphis next week.
"I want him back, I want him a part of our football team," Applewhite said. "If he wants to play, I want him to play. ... You're gonna deal with emotions all the time. And that's our job as coaches, to help them and help them develop that maturity and move on, and that's my job. If he lets me help him, I absolutely will, any way I can."
Applewhite said he wasn't trying to single out Oliver.
"I went and talked to him at first, and I think he was upset that I took [the jacket] from him," Applewhite said. "Then I wanted to go back and explain to him that I've asked other people tonight to take it off. 'I just want you to understand that I'm not singling you out, I'm not picking you out. I asked other guys on the sideline to take it off. I'm trying to be fair.' Because when you don't, you have somebody else wearing it, then guys are like, 'Well, Coach, why does he get to wear it and I don't.' So I'm just trying to be fair to our players on the sideline and that's all.
"It's really simple. There's a rule for our team. The equipment managers explained it to them. Everybody follows the rule. I want everybody to follow the rule. I ask him to follow the rule. He was upset about it. I get it. We deal with these types of situations all the time. This is something that we're gonna learn from and grow from."
Oliver's uncertain status since the injury has been a source of frustration for him, Applewhite said. His elite draft status and impending departure have left some to wonder whether he should sit out the rest of the season to avoid aggravating the injury and protect his draft status.
On Wednesday, Oliver posted a cryptic message on Twitter that read: "I gave all I had so there'd be nuthing to lose." That led to some speculation that he had decided not to play again this season for the Cougars.
But Oliver told ESPN's Laura Rutledge on Thursday that wasn't his intention. He said he wrote it so that in the event he can't return, people would know how much he gave to the team.
Applewhite said that if Oliver was healthy enough to play against Memphis, he would.
Meanwhile, Houston lost quarterback D'Eriq King to a knee injury in the second quarter of the Cougars' win.
King, the Football Bowl Subdivision leader in touchdowns responsible for going into Thursday night, suffered the noncontact injury late in the second quarter. After handing off the ball, King hopped and grabbed his right leg as he fell to the turf. He was carted off the field before the half ended. Applewhite wasn't certain of King's prognosis but noted that the quarterback couldn't straighten his leg.
The junior quarterback was responsible for 48 touchdowns prior to Thursday's game, nine more than the No. 2 player at that position, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. King was 11-of-15 passing for 82 yards and a touchdown and ran for 82 yards and a touchdown before exiting the game, giving him 50 touchdowns responsible for this season, an American Athletic Conference record.
True freshman Clayton Tune replaced King and finished 6-of-15 passing for 108 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.