Houston Cougars head coach Tom Herman has lost one game since taking over the program before the 2015 season, and it came against the Connecticut Huskies.
He and his team dished out some revenge Thursday.
Quarterback Greg Ward Jr.—who saw limited time in last year’s matchup because of an injury—led the Cougars to a commanding 42-14 victory and bolstered his early Heisman Trophy campaign with 389 passing yards, 65 rushing yards, three touchdown throws and two rushing touchdowns.
ESPN Stats & Info underscored how effective he was in the win:
Linell Bonner was Ward’s most reliable receiver, finishing with 159 receiving yards and a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch.
Houston kept its College Football Playoff hopes alive and well with a dominant 28-point margin of victory against an overmatched opponent.
While the offense dominated, the Houston defense was impressive as well, holding the Huskies to 62 rushing yards on 27 carries. No Connecticut runner tallied more than 22 yards on the ground, though quarterback Bryant Shirreffs threw for 239 yards and a touchdown to Noel Thomas, who posted 135 receiving yards.
The No. 6-ranked Cougars won with ease, but the Huskies defense dictated the tempo in the early going. It forced punts on Houston’s opening two possessions and maintained a scoreless tie through the first quarter.
The lack of explosive plays wasn’t the only early concern for the Cougars, as Jim Fuller of the New Haven Register illustrated:
Ward finally broke free of Connecticut’s defense on the second play of the second quarter. He was flushed out of the pocket but exploded downfield for a 30-yard touchdown run.
The signal-caller’s overwhelming athleticism was on display.
“I’m beginning to suspect that Houston not having Greg Ward Jr. really made a difference in last year’s game,” SB Nation’s the UConn Blog observed.
Houston received a scare on its next possession, when Ward took a massive hit from Junior Joseph on a flea-flicker pass, but he missed just one play. The drive ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Dillon Birden, but Mike Anthony of the Hartford Courant was impressed by Ward’s resolve:
The floodgates opened when Houston scored its third touchdown of the second quarter on its next possession. Ward connected with Tyler McCloskey for a three-yard score, and the game appeared to be slipping away from the Huskies.
That was especially the case when Houston marched 86 yards on six plays for yet another touchdown before the half ended. Ward hit Steven Dunbar for the score, and Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports summarized the second-quarter dominance:
Connecticut finally provided something of an answer when Thomas scored on a 62-yard reception, but the Cougars still took a 28-7 lead into the locker room.
Ward assuaged any fears for the home fans with another spectacular play with his legs. He directed the Cougars on a 74-yard touchdown drive to open the second half, capping it off with a 10-yard score on another scramble. He initially looked left but had to dance to his right, where he dashed up the sideline to the end zone.
Yahoo Sports’ Dr. Saturday reflected on the performance:
Ward continued racking up head-turning numbers when he found Bonner for another touchdown on Houston’s next drive. While Ward is the Heisman contender, Bonner was especially impressive with a one-handed haul in the end zone.
Travis Haney of ESPN.com responded to the incredible catch:
Houston took a 42-7 lead into the fourth quarter and put things in cruise control.
Connecticut added a garbage-time touchdown when Shirreffs scored on a one-yard run, but it was too little, too late for any comeback.
Houston will hit the road to play Navy on Oct. 8 before returning home to face Tulsa on Oct. 15.
Given its ranking and the fact it has College Football Playoff aspirations, Houston should take care of business in its American Athletic Conference games. All roads lead to its Nov. 17 showdown against Lamar Jackson and Louisville. The Cardinals are No. 3 in the AP Top 25, and the winner of that game could have an inside track at a spot in the playoff field.
The 2-3 Huskies are battling for bowl eligibility and must go 4-3 down the stretch.
They’ll play Cincinnati in their next game Oct. 8. The Bearcats challenged Houston before allowing 28 points in the fourth quarter of a 40-16 loss and didn’t look as outmatched as Connecticut did Thursday.
Still, there are no currently ranked teams remaining on the Huskies’ schedule, so finishing 4-3 or better is not out of the question.
Herman discussed the overall approach to the game, per Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press: “We never use the word revenge. 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.”
Herman also talked about the adjustments he made from last year’s loss when he said the “game plan was ‘don’t run the ball inside…we learned our lesson last year,’” per Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle.
Herman praised his quarterback’s toughness as well, per Duarte: “I freakin’ love it. The guy is a competitive dude.”
As for Connecticut, coach Bob Diaco described the second quarter as “disastrous,” per Neill Ostrout of the Journal Inquirer.
He also called Ward “an absolute weapon,” per Ostrout.
Ward caught the eye and admiration of Joseph as well, per Fuller: “Probably the best player I’ve played against, he is electric.”
If Ward maintains that electricity all season, the Cougars could crash the College Football Playoff with an undefeated record.
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Source: Bleacher Report-CFB News