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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Football

Good, bad and ugly: Despite slow start, Cougars get best win of season


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Sophomore backup quarterback Kyle Postma, center, came into the game late in the first half and led the Cougars back form a 20-point deficit. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

The Cougars remain perfect for the season after pulling off a comeback upset against the University of Memphis Saturday night, but their play was far from great.

The Good: best win in Cougars’ recent history

It goes without saying that the Cougars’ 35-34 win over then No. 25 Memphis will go down as the best game of the young Tom Herman era and the two-year history of TDECU Stadium, but it is also the best win in the program’s recent past.

This game had it all: a sellout crowd, a national audience, two ranked teams battling for control of their conference, backups thrust into starting roles, a record 20-point comeback and a down-to-the wire finish capped off with a missed field goal to seal the UH win.

“It is something that you dream about all your life — coming to college, playing on ESPN, playing these big games in this type of atmosphere,” junior receiver Demarcus Ayers said. “Just to come out on top and to know that we have a chance to still obtain our goal of a conference championship going into these next two games is a good feeling.”

Not since the Cougars’ 2009 upset of No. 5 Oklahoma State University has the program taken home a win of this caliber.

Sure, the comeback win against the University of Pittsburg in last year’s Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl deserves mention, but the number of storylines alone pales in comparison.

This game had been pegged by many analysts and Cougar fans before the season began as the best one on the schedule, and it didn’t disappoint.

It may not have been pretty, but from an entertainment standpoint, what else could fans have asked for?

The bad: another wretched start on offense

For the second week in a row, the Cougar offense came out flat, coming up with just one first down and 24 total yards on their first six possessions.

The same unit that scored touchdowns on its opening drive in each of the first six games of the year managed just six punts this time around.

“There was nowhere to go but up after that first half,” Herman said. “It was a putrid display of offensive football until the last drive of the first half.”

Down 20-0 with 1:52 left to play in the half, UH finally showed signs of life, despite losing its starting quarterback midway through the drive.

The ugly: quarterback controversy brewing?

The Cougars’ No. 1 offensive weapon, junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr., had been a major reason for the team’s 9-0 start to the season, but he struggled against the Tigers Saturday.

Before leaving with a rolled ankle late in the first half, Ward completed just five passes for 60 yards and was unable to use his trademark athleticism to avoid the defense and scramble for yards on the ground.

When he wasn’t getting sacked five times for minus 25 yards, Ward gained just six yards on four runs and was clearly not the player he had been to start the season.

When sophomore Kyle Postma entered the game at quarterback in the final drive before half, the Cougars’ turnaround began.

Despite drifting back and forth between quarterback and receiver this season, the Seven Lakes High School product came in and played like a seasoned veteran, completing 21 of 33 passes for 236 yards and one touchdown to go along with 49 yards and another score on the ground.

“He’s a playmaker,” Herman said of his backup quarterback. “He’s a great athlete that has a good arm, quick release, he’s football smart… finds a way to get it done.”

He was definitely not perfect against Memphis, but the bottom line is that Postma delivered. Herman however, is not going to rock the boat after such a small sample size.

“Greg is our starter if he’s healthy, that’s a no-brainer,” Herman said. “We’re talking about a guy who has led us to this point.”

Ward was able to do some light jogging at Sunday’s practice and could return to the field for Saturday’s matchup with UConn, but should he stumble again, it will be much easier to replace him with Postma.

With just two games remaining on the schedule, the Cougars are in prime position to go undefeated on the season, but they can’t let this win go to their heads and have to get off to a faster start on offense.

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