One of my colleagues put it best last night when referring to UH’s Greg Ward Jr.: “It’s just too easy,” he said. And anybody watching the Cougar offense operate against UConn has to agree. But not only does it look just too easy for Ward, it’s looking too easy for the rest of the team as well.
The Cougars (5-0) welcomed a sold-out crowd of 40,837 and a national TV audience into TDECU Stadium last night for the purpose of watching the Cougars dismantle the UConn Huskies (2-3). As much as the Oklahoma game meant for establishing the team’s bona fides for the Big 12, last night’s game meant even more. For this game was as much about revenge since the Huskies are the only team to have defeated the Cougars since Tom Herman took over as head coach.
UConn held the Cougars scoreless for the first quarter, but from that point on, it was as if Greg Ward Jr. and his teammates were playing a video game and they had all the cheat codes. The Coogs scored on four straight second quarter possessions to take a 28-7 lead into the half, then proceeded to score on the first two possessions of the third quarter on the way to the commanding 42-14 win.
"We never use the word 'revenge,'" Herman said. "The word we used was 'atonement.' To make a wrong a right. We had a chance to atone for the transgressions of last year's team [that sole 20-17 loss to UConn]."
Ward played about as perfect a night as a quarterback can play, at one point connecting on 17 straight passes. He rushed for two touchdowns, threw for three more, and generally just gave UConn defenders a nightmare every time he touched the ball. Ward left the game early in the fourth quarter after completing 32 of 38 passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 65 yards. That was his third 300-plus yard passing game this season, and a career high in passing yards. And the really outstanding number of the night is that Ward was in on five touchdowns against only six incompletions.
“The guy is a competitive dude,” Herman said, giving Ward the ultimate Tom Herman compliment. “He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve been around in my career...His fire and energy is very palpable this season.”
But let’s not give all the credit to Ward. His offensive line did another outstanding job of providing protection. His receivers made the catches, some easy, some hard. Linell Bonner caught 11 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown while Chance Allen and Steven Dunbar piled up yards. And while it’s easy to praise the UH defense for shutting down teams like Lamar and Texas State, it needs to be remembered that this unit also regularly shuts down major conference offenses like Oklahoma's — the unit held UConn to 335 total yards (most of that in the fourth quarter) and only 62 rushing yards, forcing punts on 12 of UConn’s 14 possessions.
“The team is growing up,” Herman said of the Cougars' ability to lock down teams on defense and to not let up despite having big leads. “I think they’re understanding…it’s important for the morale of the team, and the confidence of the team, to finish games. I like where our guys are headed in terms of that maturity level.”
No one knows what’s going to happen with UH and its attempt to get into the Big 12 — there is a new story out that TCU will be voting no on admitting UH. But if the Cougars are in the audition stage, then the team has to be passing every test with flying colors. The offense has shown it can score on anybody at any time. The defense is stifling. The team is talented, deep and relatively young.
But as exciting and electric as the team is, the Cougars are delivering in another aspect. The fanbase has finally bought into the Cougars like no UH fanbase has bought into a UH team since Bill Yeoman and Guy V. Lewis were leading the football and basketball teams to the NCAA stratosphere in the 1970s and early 1980s. TDECU is full of people in red shirts banging thunder sticks and making a constant roar that reverberates throughout the stadium. And if there’s anything that’s going to bring about an invite into the Big 12 or some other power conference, it’s a stadium packed with loud fans and an eager and excited fanbase watching on television.
The Cougars' quest for perfection continues next week as UH travels to Annapolis to meet Navy. That game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see a lot of people in Cougar red sitting in the stands.