The first game of the Tony Levine regime was the last time that Texas State visited the Houston Cougars. The Bobcats, playing their first game ever as an FBS-level team, defeated the Cougars in one of the biggest upsets of 2012. Levine’s offensive coordinator “resigned” the next day. Levine and his team never quite recovered from that debacle.
Texas State came a-calling on UH this past weekend. Memories of that last visit may have been in the minds of UH fans. But those memories were quickly vanquished as the Cougars played their most dominating football game since Kevin Sumlin was running up the score in an attempt to impress other colleges in his search for a new, better job. The Cougars scored on their first possession and never trailed. By the time the half rolled around, Houston was up 42-7 while on the way to a 59-14 victory that was not as close as that final score indicates.
The Cougars did just about whatever they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to on offense. Greg Ward Jr. threw touchdown passes, he ran for touchdowns, he threw long, he threw short, he ran short, he ran long. His first-half stats alone were an astounding 16-of-18 for 263 yards and four touchdown passes while rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown (he left the game midway through the third quarter after going 17-of-21 for 274 yards and 4 touchdowns while rushing 10 times for 91 yards and two touchdowns). It was the most outstanding all-around performance by a UH QB since Case Keenum’s senior year, and Keenum was nowhere near the runner that Ward is.
“It was all in our preparation,” Ward said of his game and the offense in total afterwards. “Our practices are way harder than the game. We just went out there and had fun tonight.”
The game was fun, and in many ways, it brought back fun memories of the Kevin Sumlin-era Coogs. The team scored at will with a nice mix of rush and pass (the offense totaled 689 yards, with 366 coming by the rush and 323 by way of pass). The starters were pulled from the game in the third period and the team was never in any danger of a loss. The defense, however, continued to operate more in the mode of the David Gibbs units of the past several seasons, forcing turnovers while keeping the Bobcats off of the board.
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But as much as UH dominated, Ward still thinks there are things that need to be fixed as UH heads into conference play: “We still have some things we have to fix,” he said. “And this week we just have to prepare hard. Tulsa [the next opponent] had two weeks to prepare for us. We just have to come out ready on Monday and all of the rest of the days.”
The Cougars dominated for much of the game, yet head coach Tom Herman was not totally happy with his team’s play. He felt the team got off to a slow start and stalled while the defense let Texas State gain yards early. He was especially not pleased with his special team play, or with the nine penalties in the first half. And for as much fun as the game was to watch for the fans, he issued a message to his guys at the half.
“I told our guys at halftime that if they’re expecting a pat on the back for being up 42-7 at the half, then they’re in the wrong program,” Herman said. “Because there were a lot of things that happened in that first half that were victims of poor technique and poor discipline and all of that good stuff, and so I challenged them at halftime to come out and play much more fundamentally sound and execute better, and I think we did that the few series that the starters were in there for the second half.”
The 3-0 Cougars go on the road this week to face Tulsa. And while it’s still early in the season, perhaps now might be the time to start talking about whether UH is the best football team in Houston. The team’s certainly better than the Texans. But then again, unlike the Texans, the Cougars actually have a legitimate quarterback.