Final score: Houston wins, 42-14
Love your work — the joy and enthusiasm with which this Houston team plays is great to see. It starts with the attitude of head coach Tom Herman and it’s one of the huge reasons why he is the most coveted coach in the country right now.
Two weeks ago, after Houston’s win over Cincinnati, I said Greg Ward was an animal. I, and pundits across the country, are going to start running out of descriptors for the senior quarterback. He put on an absolute show against UCONN.
Bill Belichick would have been proud of Herman and Major Applewhite’s game plan on offense. They took what the defense gave them and avoided the strength of the unit. UCONN is good up the middle, so Houston refused to run right at them. In fact, until late in the third quarter, the Cougars hardly ran the ball at all. They spread the field and let Ward fire the ball toward the sidelines ... or choose to dissect the Huskies with his running ability.
Duke Catalon did not play (concussion) and neither did Brandon Wilson (lower left leg).
Ed Oliver DID play. He’s pretty good.
UCONN’s standout wide receiver Noel Thomas (6 rec., 135 yards, 1 TD) is a hell of a player. If he played on any one of several different teams, he could be a household name. The Patriots are probably already eying him with a late-round pick.
Tale of the Tape
Total Yards: Houston 540, UCONN 335
Rush Yards: Houston 114, UCONN 62
Pass Yards: Houston 426, UCONN 273
Greg Ward: 32-38, 389 yards passing (career high attempts, completions, yards), 3 TDs; 12 carries, 65 yards rushing, 2 TDs
Linell Bonner: 12 receptions, 159 yards (both career highs), 1 TD
The first quarter was slow, sure.
The second quarter was decidedly not. Houston just stopped messing around. The Cougars scored 28 points in the period and it became very clear very quickly that they were going to exact every measure of revenge I thought they would when I wrote my preview.
Ward lit up the field and scoreboard. He had two touchdown passes and a TD run, and nearly had a third TD pass but Linell Bonner was knocked out of bounds at the one yard line on Houston’s second scoring drive of the quarter.
Backup running back Dillon Birden smashed the ball over the goal line for that touchdown.
Ward dazzled with a 30-yard TD scramble for the first score of the game. He connected with Tyler McCloskey on a 3-yard touchdown pass for the third score of the game. He hit Steven Dunbar on a perfect out route for a 15-yard TD to make it 28-0.
UCONN wide receiver Noel Thomas took a pass 79 yards through the Houston defense, weaving in and out and dodging defenders, to the end zone with 30 seconds left in the half to put the Huskies on the scoreboard.
As the first half ground to a close, Ward’s numbers — and TOUGHNESS — were incredible. He was 19-22 for 203 yards passing and 2 TDs, plus 44 yards rushing and a TD.
And he got CRUSHED on two huge hits. The first came on a flea flicker and he had to leave the game for a play. It looked a hell of a lot worse than something that required only a single play off, but he came right back in and Houston scored on Birden’s TD run three plays later.
Ward added another amazing TD run to open the third quarter on a play that was designed to go to his left but he broke it back to the right and simply outran the UCONN defense to the end zone for a 10-yard score.
That put the Cougars ahead 35-7.
Linell Bonner made the highlight play of the game to notch Houston’s final touchdown. He snagged a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard TD.
Houston took its foot off the gas in the second half and Ward sat out the entire fourth quarter. UCONN added a predictable garbage-time TD, but the game was obviously out of hand by that point.
Lastly, the defense was great. There weren’t necessarily any spectacular plays, but they were stout and stingy and did their jobs. The secondary was a little shaky early on but there was no real damage done outside of Thomas’ long TD reception.
UCONN quarterback Bryant Shirreffs missed some open receivers down the field in the first half, so Houston will need to continue to improve its pass defense, but again, Brandon Wilson was out for the second straight game.
It was a good win, a solid win, and a satisfying win to exorcise the demons of last year’s loss.