Cougars lose third straight as offense continues to struggle

For 60 minutes, UH was a product of its environment.

The Cougars followed a gloomy, misty rain-filled morning with a similar performance on the sloppy natural grass at BBVA Compass stadium on Saturday.

The offense couldn’t find its rhythm and the defense surrendered big plays in the passing game, but still proved itself opportunistic as Cincinnati defeated UH 24-17.

“When you play a really good football program … and you make too many mistakes, it’s hard to win football games. You don’t give yourself as much of an opportunity to be successful,” said head coach Tony Levine. “And that starts with me. I made mistakes, the coaches made mistakes, the trainers, the managers, everybody made mistakes.”

The defense gave the Cougars a chance to win, causing three turnovers and scoring a touchdown when sophomore safety Trevon Stewart scooped up a fumble and ran 15 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Stewart’s sixth fumble recovery of the season earned him a UH (7-4, 4-3) single-season record, and brought the Cougars within 10 points.

“When (the offense) isn’t doing what they’re supposed to, we’ve got their back. When we’re not doing what we’re supposed to they’ve got our back,” Stewart said. “Even if (the offense doesn’t score we can still win the game if we stop them… We still put some of (the loss) on (the defense) because we let them score.”

The offense could only muster 10 points against Cincinnati (9-2, 6-1), but UH still had a chance to win on its final drive. Bearcats’ kicker Tony Miliano missed field goals on consecutive fourth-quarter drives that kept them from expanding the lead, but the Cougars couldn’t capitalize leading to their third straight loss.

UH’s final possession began 80 yards from sending the game into overtime. Freshman quarterback John O’Korn and the offense had 1:24 to score, but the 10-play drive ended with an O’Korn scramble for six yards. The Cougars didn’t have enough time to return to the line of scrimmage before the clock expired.

O’Korn struggled for much of the game finishing with 171 passing yards on 13-30 attempts. He was replaced by freshman quarterback Greg Ward midway through the third quarter to give the team a “spark.” Ward led the Cougars to three points, but couldn’t lead the team on a scoring drive that would have tied the game.

With more experience and practice reps running the two-minute offense, the Cougars went back to O’Korn for the final drive. The team struggled to move the ball on the ground too. The Cougars finished with only 33 net rushing yards on 31 attempts.

“We couldn’t get anything consistent going in the running game and became a little bit one dimensional,” Levine said.

The Cougars’ defense surrendered 527 total yards, but held Cincinnati to 24 points with three turonvers — twice giving UH the ball inside the Louisville 20.

After sophomore safety Adrian McDonald intercepted quarterback Brendon Kay, UH went backward and failed to convert on fourth down. And the Cougars could only muster a field goal after redshirt freshman linebacker Steven Taylor intercepted Kay for a second time.

Despite the two interceptions, Kay finished with 386 yards and two touchdowns. The defense struggled to contain the Bearcats’ top three receivers: Shaq Washington and Anthony McClung finished with more than 100 yards and Chris Moore corralled two touchdowns.

UH will try to fend off a four-game losing streak when SMU makes its way to Reliant Stadium next week.

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