Stephen Pinchback/Houston Athletics Communications UH QB John O'Korn looks for an open receiver
BYU jumped off to the quick 10-0 lead, taking advantage of a John O'Korn interception on the game's first play and catching UH off-guard with a passing attack that it had previously kept under wraps. But Houston stormed back into the game on the strength of Demarcus Ayers' 95-yard TD kick return, a 69-yard Greg Ward, Jr. To Xavier Maxwell TD pass, and Derrick Mathews' 29-yard interception return for the touchdown which put Houston up 21-17.
The UH defense made adjustments during the game, forcing BYU back into the run game, and was able to get some stops. But by this time both offensive squads were turning into quick-strike scoring machines, rarely staying on the field longer than two minutes while finding the end zone with regularity and the score was 38-34 UH over BYU at the half.
O'KORN PLAYED LIKE A FRESHMAN
John O'Korn threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns. He escaped multiple sacks and made several miraculous throws just as it appeared he was about to be tackled. He also threw three interceptions and at times left people wondering just what was it he was doing and thinking on the field. But as head coach Tony Levine reminded after the game, O'Korn is just a freshman who is far from perfect.
I think our fans and even coaches forget he is an 18-year-old true freshman...." Levine said of O'Korn. "Did he play perfectly? No, and I've said it every week that he is never going to. He's going to learn from his mistakes and I see improvement in that young man at the end of every week."
The kid has the faith of the coaching staff, and he's developed some real chemistry with his receivers. He is just a freshman, and it needs to be remembered that not even Case Keenum was the perfect QB in his first several seasons.
Stephen Pinchback/Houston Athletics Communications Head coach Tony Levine greets linebacker Derrick Mathews after a big play
The Cougars hung around in this game early, when BYU looked to be on the verge of pulling away, on the strength of the special teams. There was Ayers kick return for the first score, and the returners kept putting the offense in decent field position. And then there was punter Richie Leone who boomed punt after punt, keeping BYU pinned deep in its own territory throughout the game.
"To pin teams back deep in their own territory, let our defense the way we've been opportunistic, creating turnovers, taking the field with our opponent backed up, that turns into points eventually," Levine said. "Whether it's getting the safety or making them punt it and give it back to our offense in good field position. Those are the hidden things you don't necessarily see all the time when it comes to special teams."
Leone's day was far from perfect, though. Though excelling on his punts, Leone missed two makeable field goals that could have guaranteed the win for UH. Both kicks had the distance, but went wide. Still, as bad as he was on field goals, he was that good with the punting, and he did far more to put UH in position to win than he did position to lose.
BYU ran 115 plays on offense while piling up 681 yards to go with the 47 points. Yet it still must be said that the defense played decently. Levine admitted after the game that UH wasn't expecting BYU to come out passing, but the squad made some in-game adjustments that slowed BYU in the second quarter and virtually shut the team down in the second half.
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"The first half, we see how they're blocking the run play different, how they are utilizing personnel groups a little differently and just maybe a core of six offensive plays," Levine said. "BYU came out and threw a little bit in the beginning and then settled down a little bit and seemed to try to pound us and run the football. When we get in at halftime...we make our adjustments and go out there."
BYU was the best offensive team UH has faced this season, and probably the best they'll face until the Louisville game. The coaches were quick with adjustments -- something not often seen with previous coaching staffs -- and whereas this team would've been blown out in the past after facing an opening onslaught like BYU gave them, the squad regrouped and allowed the offense to crawl back into the game.
GOALS STILL ALIVE
The Cougars are still undefeated in conference play. The team's one win short of bowl eligibility. While the hopes of an undefeated season are smashed, the team's still primed to go to a bowl game. And after the disappointment of last season, this season is turning into a triumph. Still, it will be interesting to see how the team handles the loss of a game it could have won. And with a conference matchup against Rutgers next on the schedule, the team needs a quick rebound if it wants to remain undefeated in AAC play.