Ironically, Houston’s secondary, which gave up 365 passing yards and nearly allowed three 100-yard receivers, made a goal line stop in the final seconds of the game to maintain the win.
Tulsa lined up on the 1-yard line as the last seven seconds ticked off the clock. Quarterback Dane Evans ran a play-action fake and threw a pass to defense end Jess Brubaker, who is a former tight end and had lined up in that position in the goal line formation.
Brubaker caught the ball literally inches from the goal line and needed only to twist his body or extend the ball across the plane to score, but Houston defensive backs Austin Robinson and Khalil Williams met him and drove him into the ground just outside the end zone.
The play was one of two defensive feats of heroism in the last 90 seconds of the game that locked up the win.
Linebacker Garrett Davis knocked the ball out of Evans’ hand as he tried to pass with with 1:21 left to play and UH linebacker Emeke Egbule scooped and scored to give the Coogs a 38-31 lead.
Greg Ward simply took over the game in the second half. He decided to shoulder the load for the offense and he did an impressive job, but it was clear that he can’t win a game by himself. He could really use a standout running back and a healthy offensive line.
Ed Oliver is beastly to the point that I’ve run out of ways to describe him. As a DT, he led the team in total tackles and tied for the lead in solo tackles, tackles for loss AND pass breakups — yes, pass breakups. He blocked two passes at the line of scrimmage.
Houston’s front seven rebounded after a tough game against Navy and shut down Tulsa’s rushing attack.
Wide receiver Chance Allen took a wicked hit to the head and neck late in the game and we’ll have to keep an eye on his status next week.
Tale of the Tape:
Total yards: Houston 522, Tulsa 459
Rush yards: Houston 268, Tulsa 94
Pass yards: Houston 254, Tulsa 365
Greg Ward: 26-34, 254 yards; 24 carries, 142 yards
**Interestingly, Ward was held without a touchdown.
Ed Oliver: 12 total tackles, 7 solo tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups
Houston received the opening kickoff and its first drive was vintage Cougars. They moved rhythmically and methodically down field with short passes and good runs and running back Dillon Birden finished it off with a 17-yard touchdown scamper.
Ty Cummings hit a field goal and Mulbah Car hit pay dirt on a 6-yard run to wrap Houston’s scoring in the first half.
The Cougars had a perfect balance of run and pass: they rushed 22 times and threw 22 times. Car and Birden combined for 13 carries, 70 yards and 2 TDs. Ward ran 9 times for 63 yards.
Houston was committed to both running the ball AND running it with someone not named Greg Ward. At one point in the first half, the running backs had 3 times more carries than Ward.
But on Car’s scoring drive, we got a glimpse of what was to come it the second half. Ward started to assert himself and he simply took over the offense in the third and fourth quarters.
There were still a few more pivotal plays in the first half, however. Ward missed deep throws to Isaiah Johnson and Steven Dunbar that could easily have been TDs.
Birden fumbled with 6:35 left to go in the half and 47 seconds later, defensive back Terrell Williams was ejected for targeting. Houston led 17-3 at the time, but Tulsa marched down the field and scored to close the gap to 17-10.
The Golden Hurricane stopped Houston on its next series and then evened the score 17-17 with 0:13 left in the second quarter. The bulk of the 74 yards on the drive was achieved through the air before Evans ran the ball in himself for the touchdown.
In the second half, as previously mentioned, Ward just carried the offense. His rushing attempts nearly doubled and he became Houston’s best weapon on the field. But as well as he did, he could only lead two scoring drives in the second half.
Birden polished off both drives with short rushing touchdowns and the Cougars looked fairly safe with a 31-17 lead and 7:50 to play in the game.
But Tulsa’s passing attack kicked into gear and the Golden Hurricane tied the score on drives of 63 yards and 57 yards, neither of which lasted two minutes.
With 1:39 left on the clock and the score tied 31-31, Tulsa started a drive that could have won the game. But Garrett and Davis stripped Evans and scored for the Houston defense to put the Cougars up 38-31.
That still left Tulsa 1:21 to play for the tie or the win. The Golden Hurricane advanced all the way to the Houston 1-yard line and had to hurry to get their final play off, which was an ill-fated pass to Brubaker.
These four games, from Tulsa to Tulane, were supposed to be the “easy” stretch of the schedule but the Cougars have shown that they can’t take anyone for granted. The team that looked so good and so confident against Oklahoma is starting to fray at the edges.
Hopefully a solid win over SMU next week can help mend some problems.