The Houston Cougars defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats 33-30 on Saturday afternoon. The Cougars stayed undefeated, going 9-0 for the season. The Cougar defense struggled at times, surrendering 589 yards (523 passing yards), yet came through when needed and forced three turnovers and got a safety. The offense struggled at times, gaining just 427 yards (only 161 by the pass), yet found ways to get the ball into the end zone. And with the win, the Cougars jumped to 16th in the Coaches Poll and are now the highest ranked team from the American Football Conference.
Playing, without any doubt, its toughest game of the season, the Cougars did what was needed to get the win. Quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. rushed for 119 yards and running back Kenneth Farrow rushed for 106 yards, while the team rushed for 266 as a whole). The offensive line was beat up coming into the game, having lost a starter to a concussion during the week and playing two freshman.
Head coach Tom Herman is the first head coach in UH history to start his Cougar tenure with a 9-0 record, and Greg Ward is now 15-2 as the Cougars’ starting QB, and he is responsible for a touchdown (either by pass or by run) in 18 straight games. And despite the beat-up offensive line, Kenneth Farrow ran, fought, and clawed his way to another 100-plus yard rushing effort.
“It’s tough as a tailback when you’re getting the ball, and there is penetration in the back field,” Herman said about Farrow. “He was dealing with that for most of the night and rattled off some really tough runs to set us up in third and short. That’s kind of what we hang our hat on. He was able to find a way to get that done. He missed some cuts here and there, but I didn’t realize he had 30 carries. That’s a lot of carries and with only a 3.5 yard average. He certainly came through when we needed him to.”
The defense allowed Cincinnati QB Gunner Kiel to pass for 523 yards, including four touchdowns. Yet Kiel was hit hard, and hit often, and he threw two interceptions — one of which was returned 51 yards for a UH touchdown — and was sacked in the end zone for a third quarter safety. This was the third straight game in which the defense scored a touchdown (the fourth time this season), and the sixth time this season the defense forced three-plus turnovers in the game. The defense has also surrendered a total of just 18 points in the third quarter this season (an average of just two points a game).
The Cougars went up 30-14 on Cincinnati after Trevon Stewart’s end zone sack of Gunner Kiel for a safety with 4:54 left in the third quarter. The Cougars appeared poised to put the game away multiple times after that, going on long drives that ended not with points, but turnovers that in turn led to Cincinnati touchdowns. That the Bearcats were able to score points on UH though was not a shock as the Bearcats came into the game leading the AAC in total offense, passing offense, first downs.
“I was really proud of the way both sides of the ball responded to that adversity,” Herman said. “We knew they were going to score some points, and we found a way to win it there at the end. I’m really proud of the defense. I know the yardage total certainly is a bit gaudy, but they had turnovers again and scored nine points on their own.”
The Bearcats bought in the fourth best defense in the conference, and the UH offense did struggle. Ward wasn’t able to get much happening with the passing game, and the running game, behind a beat up offensive line, struggled to get going. And when it did get going in the second half, it stopped itself with turnovers. Yet the important takeaway is not that the offense struggled to score points, or that the defense struggled to shut down the Bearcats, the important takeaway instead is that the Cougars faced the toughest test of the season and got the win.
“We knew going in that this was going to be one of the better teams that we played in a while,” Kenneth Farrow said. “We knew we were going to have to fight until the very end, and that’s what we did. Hats off to the defense; they really saved us tonight, going out there and getting turnover after turnover. Especially when we couldn’t capitalize on it, they went out there and still got stops, so they really kept us in the game and finished it off for us.”
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The Cougars are a beat up team, and got just more beat up during the game. Running back Ryan Jackson broke his collarbone and is out for the season while defensive back William Jackson III appeared to have sprained a MCL during the game (pending a MRI), and it’s not certain how long he will be out.
The Cougars played the game before an announced crowd of 32,889, most of which spent the game in the concourses to stay out of the rain. It’s puzzling why Houstonians are failing to embrace this team and sell out games, especially considering the support the always mediocre Houston Texans continue to get. The student turnout, however, was once again amazing, so maybe the school should find a way to open up more of the stadium to the students.
The Cougars host Memphis at 6:00 on Saturday night on ESPN2, so here’s one more chance for Houstonians to actually show up and support a winning team. Memphis did lose Saturday to Navy, and are no longer undefeated, but the Tigers will provide another really tough test for the Cougars who need the win to continue a quest to play in one of the big boy bowl games — and with the presence of Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl representatives at the game, it’s appearing as if this will be the bowl game for the Cougars should they win out.