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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Football

Herman’s Cougars shock the Sooners in opener


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Head coach Tom Herman is now 14-1 in his young coaching career. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

A sea of scarlet and crimson filled the seats of NRG Stadium to the rafters Saturday afternoon when the No. 15 ranked Cougars defeated the No. 3 ranked University of Oklahoma by a score of 33-23.

The monumental win marks the first time in school history that the Cougars have defeated Top 10 opponents in back-to-back games and the fifth straight win against ranked foes. Now 14-1 under Herman, the second-year head coach’s culture is fully instilled.

“I’m excited for our players,” head coach Tom Herman said. “I’m excited for our University, and I’m excited for the great city of Houston. It was definitely a home field advantage out there.”

The win would not have come without the stellar play of senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. Ward appeared calm and collected throughout the entire game. Although criticized at times for his nerves in big spots last season, the senior seems to have alleviated those issues.

“I’m a lot more comfortable in this offense,” Ward said. “I know the offense just like (it’s) at the back of my mind. There is nothing that we can do on this offense that I won’t know or won’t catch on to it fast.”

Ward finished the upset with 321 yards passing and two touchdowns, which makes it just his fourth career game with more than 300 yards through the air. The win against OU marks the 14th straight Cougar victory with Ward under center.

Junior wide receiver Steven Dunbar Jr. played a big role by catching seven passes for 125 yards. Although he never found the end zone, it was the junior’s timely plays that allowed the Cougars to keep drives alive all afternoon.

A turning point in the game came in the third quarter when Brandon Wilson made one of the longest plays in NCAA history.

Up by just two points with 8:28 left in the third quarter, Oklahoma lined up for what would be a 52-yard field goal. The ball soared through the air, coming just short of the goal post and three points for the Sooners.

At the back of the end zone, senior cornerback Brandon Wilson fielded the missed field goal try.

“When I caught it, I really thought I stepped out,” Wilson said. “But I didn’t hear a whistle or anything, so I just went. I just saw the green grass and I scored.”

In all, the “kick six” went 109 yards and you would be hard-pressed to find any play in history to be longer. The score was the sixth different type of touchdown scored in Wilson’s career adding to the list that includes: rushing, kick return, fumble return, interception return and blocked field goal return.

The remarkable score and extra point put the Cougars up by a score of 26-17, and they would not look back.

Although the offense and special team’s performances were important, the defense is what won the game. The hard-hitting secondary of the Cougars were shaky initially, but pressured Sooner quarterback Baker Mayfield enough to wreak havoc.

True freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver made himself comfortable in the Sooner backfield as he recorded two sacks in his first collegiate game. Oliver, who was the lone five-star recruit to choose to attend a non-Power Five school, earned the respect of his head coach on Saturday.

The victory against the Sooners might be the biggest win the school history, as it will propel them into the College Football Playoff conversation and the AP Top 10 in weeks to come.

Taking the last question of the post-game press conference, Ward seemed as cool as he was in the fourth quarter of the game. When asked if the weight of the moment has hit him yet, Ward’s answer was simple.

“No not all,” Ward said. “It’s just like I said: I knew that we could do it. We all trusted each other, and it’s just all in the summer. We all put in hard work, and it’s finally paying off.”

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