2016 game recap
Houston coach Tom Herman walked into Saturday’s postgame news conference carrying a deflated football.
Then he shared a story told to the team early in the week by UH alum Steve Elkington – about warriors and hunting, feeding a village and killing a buffalo.
On Thursday, as the Cougars wrapped up preparation for the season opener against Oklahoma, members of the offensive line said a few words and presented Herman with the deflated football with a photo of a buffalo head taped to it.
“They assured me the family would be fed and the buffalo killed,” Herman said.
No. 15 Houston delivered the first shocker of the college football season, slaying the third-ranked Sooners 33-23 in the Advocare Texas Kickoff before a crowd of 71,016 at NRG Stadium.
The victory – one of the most significant in school history – could be feeding the Cougars for months to come.
UH (1-0) threw its name into the early season discussion for the College Football Playoff, a seat at the big boy’s table currently not reserved for the Cougars as a member of the Group of Five.
And the win comes just days before UH will make a formal presentation to the Big 12 about joining the league.
Forget the fancy brochures and celebrity testimonials.
All the Cougars need to do is hit play on a 60-minute video of their thorough dismantling of the Sooners, the Big 12’s defending champion and a national semifinalist.
Whether they get into the Big 12 or not, the Cougars showed they are ready to compete with its second straight win over a top 10 program (they beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl).
UH also beat its highest-ranked opponent since a 29-15 win over No. 3 Texas on Nov. 10, 1984.
“We expected to win internally,” said Herman, who improved to 5-0-against ranked teams in 15 games as a head coach. “We were prepared to win. We expected to win. 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.”
Or a few toes, the miniscule margin on two of the Cougars’ biggest plays of the game that allowed them to take the lead for good.
First, Linell Bonner made a head’s up play, getting his foot in bounds for an 18-yard catch to set up Ty Cummings’ career-long 47-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. Cummings had field goals of 35, 26, 33 and 47.
On its opening series of the second half, OU set up for a 53-yard field goal attempt by Austin Seibert. The kick came up just short and Brandon Wilson reached up to catch the ball I the back of the end zone and took off along the right sideline for what officially was a 100-yard return.
“I thought I stepped out,” Wilson said. “I just saw green grass.”
Wilson picked up a few blockers and hurdled teammate Zach Vaughan before coasting the final 30 yards for the Kick Six that gave the Cougars a 26-17 lead.
“Honestly, I didn’t even see the end of it because of was looking for [penalty] flags,” Herman said. “I was thinking: this is too good to be true.”
Oklahoma called a timeout before the attempt, which Herman said allowed his team to set up for the return that the team practices once a week.
“I thought those two plays were big swings for us momentum-wise,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.
On the Sooners’ next possession, UH linebacker Matthew Adams delivered a jarring hit that forced a fumble by Jarvis Baxter, setting up Tyler McCloskey’s 2-yard touchdown that turned a close game into a 33-17 runaway not even the Sooner Schooner could catch up with. On the 51-yard scoring drive, the Cougars converted four third downs – three on passes by Greg Ward Jr. and the last on interference call in the end zone against OU’s Dakota Austin.
The UH defense wasn’t through. Tyus Bowser caused OU quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful Baker Mayfield to fumble with the Sooners in UH territory early in the fourth quarter.
OU went scoreless for more than 36 minutes in the game and was held to 73 yards total offense until a late scoring drive. The UH defense sacked Mayfield five times, two apiece by senior Steven Taylor and true freshman Ed Oliver, and had nine tackles for loss.
“You came out there and you earned some respect, and that’s it to me,” UH defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said.
After Mark Andrews caught a 25-yard touchdown, his second of the game, the Sooners went for the two-point conversion. UH cornerback Howard Wilson batted down the pass, and the Cougars ran the final two minutes, 5 seconds off the clock.
In his debut, UH running back Duke Catalon rushed for 88 yards and caught a 15-yard touchdown. Steven Dunbar had seven catches for a game-high 125 yards.
Asked after the game if he was impressed with what UH accomplished, Ward barely registered a reaction.
“I’m not impressed,” said Ward, who passed for 321 yards and two touchdowns. “We all believed that we could do it.”