Tom Herman couldn’t have been any clearer on Saturday. Houston’s 33-23 win over Oklahoma was not a statement game, according to the Cougars head coach. The Cougars, he said, weren’t sending any messages. A team doesn’t have to when it trains and expects to win every game.
But it doesn’t matter if the Cougars think that it was a statement game, because the Big 12 got their message loud and clear: If Oklahoma’s the best the conference has, UH is going to dominate.
Oklahoma fans might talk of bad execution on the part of their team (and the Sooners made some truly stupid penalties to keep UH drives alive). And maybe the fans will think OU took the game for granted. But UH out-gained OU 410 yards to 390, netted more first downs and was an amazing nine of 17 on third-down conversions (at one point the Cougars were an amazing nine-for-13).
“That’s where you have to credit [UH]," Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said after the game. “They made some big plays overall. Made great plays on third down, in particular. That was a big case and we couldn’t, and that’s the bottom line. For instance, we have Dimitri Flowers wide open for a touchdown and we don’t complete; we throw that about every day and complete it. We all get them down. That’s just an example of execution and get[ting] a chance to make a big play. It is their touchdown; we don’t make it and next play we fumble, we get stripped. That’s where they made the plays and we didn’t.”
The first half was a close football game, with both teams scoring on all but one possession, an OU punt. But the Cougars offense was somewhat limited upon reaching the red zone, coming out of the half with the 19-17 lead because kicker Ty Cummings went a perfect four-for-four on his field goal tries, including a career-long 47-yarder just as the clock expired for the half.
But then came the second half, when UH just dominated Oklahoma so badly that it obviously rattled the Sooners, especially on a drive where OU wasted two timeouts. The final of those two timeouts was called so that OU could get properly set for a 53-yard field goal attempt (OU had just ten men on the field before the timeout). Oklahoma kicker Austin Seibert’s attempt was short, and it was caught on the fly by UH’s Brandon Wilson just inches from the end line. Wilson was never touched by any OU player as he then rambled the length of the field for the 100-yard touchdown that put the Cougars up 26-17.
There was still plenty of time left in the game, but it was evident to all that OU was defeated after Wilson's touchdown. And it was almost a play that didn’t happen because UH wasn’t set for a possible return. Until OU called the timeout, that is.
“We decided in that timeout,” Herman said. “I’m embarrassed to say we were caught in the middle of having [the punt return team instead of the field goal team] in there because we weren’t sure who was jogging out — was it the punt team jogging out? And obviously they were confused as well, because they didn’t have the right people….Them having to call timeout certainly settled us down, allowed us to know exactly who they were going to put in the game and then decide what to do from there.”
So forget about the silly media feuds. Put aside the talk of Big 12 expansion. Just take a long, hard look at this UH football team. It might have sneaked up on some people last season. But this is a team that has increasingly been in the national media spotlight since the end of last season, and rather than wilting, came out before 71,016 fans inside NRG Stadium and in front of a national TV audience just plain beat up on the third-ranked team in the country (a team that was talked of as a national title contender).
“No, we were prepared to win,” Herman said. “We expected to win, and we trained to win. It wasn’t about making a statement. It was just about going 1-0 in the first week of the season and starting the 2016 season off on the right foot.”
So how about it, Cougar fans? Are you having fun? Are you enjoying this? Well, it possibly only gets better, what with UH’s upcoming schedule and the sure-to-be-coming playoff talk. The Cougars aren’t a fluke. And the Cougars are above making statements.
The Cougars are ready to do just one thing: win football games.