Fitting that the Houston defense picked Halloween night to look its scariest. The Cougars put together a complete team effort to dismantle and shutout Vanderbilt, 34-0.
Granted, Vanderbilt's offense has struggled all season long, but the fact remains that the Cougars suffocated the Commodores all game long. Houston held Vandy to 180 total yards, while Greg Ward Jr. added another marquee performance to his resume. Ward Jr. did most of his damage through the air this week, passing for 221 yards and two touchdowns while adding another touchdown on the ground for the Cougars. While the offense did what they usually do, the real story on the night was the Cougar defense. They forced four Commodore turnovers, including three interceptions-one of which was taken back for a touchdown by William Jackson III that pretty much sealed the deal.
Ward Jr. got the party started with a five-yard TD run in the first to put the Cougars up seven, which turned out to be the game winner. Houston wasn't finished, though, adding two Ty Cummings field goals and a Ward Jr. touchdown pass to DeMarcus Ayers in the second quarter to take a 20-0 lead into the half.
In the second half, the Houston defense continued to put the clamps down on the Commodores.
Jackson's pick six of Kyle Shurmur put the Coogs up 27-0, followed by a 15 yard TD run late in the third by Kenneth Farrow that rounded out the scoring.
While their offense was typically anemic, the Vanderbilt defense played well. The Commodores held the explosive Houston rushing attack to 150 yards, their lowest output of the season. However, they couldn't stop Ward Jr. through the air, and when you couple that with no productivity and turnovers from the offense, you see the results. Farrow finished with 82 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown, while Chance Allen (3 catches, 95 yards) and Ayers (5 catches, 59 yards, TD) did most of the damage catching the ball.
The lone bright spot for the Commodores, if you want to call it that, was running back Ralph Webb. Webb rushed for 99 yards on 26 carries, and was the only offensive threat for the Commodores.
THE GOOD - Greg Ward, Jr.
Every week, the Cougars ask Ward, Jr. to make plays and every week, he delivers. He is fast becoming one of the best dual threats in the nation, and tonight was no exception. He added his FBS leading 16th rushing touchdown, his preferred method of dispatching defenses. Tonight, though, he showed that he can also hurt you through the air. If he continues to put together complete performances, Houston is going to be really tough to beat.
THE BAD - Vandy's quarterbacks
As the old saying goes, if you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none. The Commodores tried to use both Shurmur and Johnny McCrary, but they might have been better off by just direct snapping it to Webb. Shurmur finished 3/11 for 20 yards and an interception, while McCrary went 2/9 for 24 yards and two picks. Sure, the Cougar defense was good on the night, but they were helped by the futility of the Vanderbilt offense.
THE BEST - Houston's secondary
The Cougar pass defense held Vanderbilt to 44 passing yards...total. Yes, you read that right. Vandy used both of its quarterbacks, and neither of them had an answer for the Houston coverage. Jackson, Steven Taylor, and Adrian McDonald all intercepted passes on the night. The Cougar front seven did a great job of getting pressure and forcing bad passes from the Commodores, but the secondary closed off any attempt at passing the ball.
The win moves Houston to 8-0 on the year and is their second victory over a Power Five school this season. They'll move on to face Cincinnati next week at home in a tough contest before traveling to fellow unbeaten #16 Memphis for a showdown that will decide the AAC West. Vanderbilt falls to 3-5 on the year.