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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Commentary

Three takeaways from the AAC Championship


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Houston hosted the American Athletic Conference Championship game on Dec. 5, 2015. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

The American Athletic Conference Championship game offered a great look at one of the best Cougar football teams in a while. Here’s a breakdown of some of the best performances from the day.

Greg Ward Jr.’s performance

Junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. showed mental toughness and resilience against Temple University. He was only able to put up 88 passing yards, but he rushed for 148 yards with two touchdowns.

Ward got the offense going early as he led the Cougars to their eighth touchdown on the opening drive this season.

After the opening drive, Ward struggled with the passing game but was able to adjust to Temple’s defense with the rush.

The first one came in the second quarter when he scrambled for 47 yards to record his longest rushing touchdown of the season, then in the third, he rushed in again for a 10-yard touchdown.

Ward still has another year with Herman and the Cougars, which means, surprisingly, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

“(I’m) very fortunate to have the coaches here to build champions,” Ward said. “We know what to expect now. The plan is infallible, and we’re just going to be on the train.”

It will be interesting to see Ward’s performance as he finishes off the season against Florida State University at the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31.

Defense paves the way to the victory

Houston’s defense set the tone early in the game and never let Temple find its rhythm.

In the opening drive, junior outside linebacker Tyus Bowser intercepted Temple’s P.J. Walker. The turnover led to a Houston touchdown.

After Houston scored, it looked as though Temple was going to respond quickly, until senior inside linebacker Elandon Roberts forced his first fumble of the season inside Houston’s 11 which was recovered by junior outside linebacker Steven Taylor.

“When the defense can get turnovers, it changes the momentum of a good offense like Temple’s,” Roberts said. “It’s a real good vibe for the offense to go out on the field and capitalize on it.”

The turnover took a lot of momentum from Temple as its struggles for the rest of the game to get in the end zone.

Steven Taylor also had a sack in the game, giving him the lead in the AAC for most sacks this season with nine.

William Jackson III was all over the place as he broke the Houston single-game record with seven pass breakups.

Glimpse to the future

Through the first four home games, the attendance average was 30,126.25. The average attendance of the final four home games was 37,832.75. It’s safe to say that everyone, including the University, with Herman’s five year contract extension, has bought in on Tom Herman.

Houston created the game day environment Herman envisioned at the start of the season. Temple head coach Matt Rule talked about the raucous environment after the game.

“That was a really hard environment to play in,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said. “A lot of credit to Houston and to their fans. It was almost un-hearable at times.”

Now that we know Herman will return and continue to bring playoff football to Houston, anticipation for what the Cougars can do next season is mounting. But for now, the Cougars are set to face a team that’s two years removed from a national championship: the Florida State Seminoles.

“When you go in and try to instill this culture, it’s not just for one season,” Herman said. “It’s to build a program, and it’s to build a foundation, really, for things to come. (Next season), it’ll be hard again. It’ll be tough. It’ll be physically and mentally challenging, but I think now that has become the Houston way. I think the players embrace it and understand the value in it and where it will lead them in the future.”

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