Strong defense leads to shutout victory against SMU

Sophomore defensive end Eric Eiland takes a peek at those chasing him as he returns a fumble 62 yards to the SMU 1-yard line. | Caitlin Hilton

Sophomore defensive end Eric Eiland takes a peek at those chasing him as he returns a fumble 62 yards to the SMU 1-yard line. | Caitlin Hilton

On its first play from scrimmage, UH got all of the scoring it would need.

When freshman quarterback John O’Korn found junior receiver Daniel Spencer for a 67-yard touchdown 10 seconds into the Cougars’ first offensive possession the rout was on.

From start to finish, UH (8-4, 5-3) had its way with SMU (5-6, 4-3).

The Cougars rode an efficient offense and a dominating defense to a 34-0 victory against the Mustangs at Reliant Stadium on Friday.  The defense forced four turnovers and caused five sacks against an over matched SMU offense to help put the game out of reach early.

It was the Cougars’ first shutout of a conference opponent since former quarterback Andre Ware clinched the Heisman Trophy against Rice in 1989.

“We started off the beginning of the year with something to prove. I think we all wanted to make sure we kept that chip on our shoulder throughout the whole year,” said senior defensive back Zachary McMillian. “We didn’t want to go back to having the same year that we had last year. And I think a lot of guys on our team bought in and took it personally.”

The Mustangs, dealing with the loss of senior quarterback Garrett Gilbert, started redshirt freshman Neal Burcham, who struggled against the Cougars’ opportunistic defense. Burcham tossed three interceptions and fumbled once to often set the Cougars up with prime field position.

McMillian had two interceptions in his final home game, but two underclassmen helped set the tone on defense. Sophomore defensive end Eric Eiland coupled one sack and six tackles with a fumble recovery that he nearly returned for a touchdown late in the first half.

After Burcham fumbled on a drop back, the ball bounced perfectly to Eiland, who had a running start and strolled 62 yards to set the Cougars’ offense up with a short field. Senior running back Kent Brooks capitalized one play later with a 1-yard touchdown that gave the Cougars a 24-0 lead with four seconds remaining before halftime.

The defensive line’s ability to get pressure on the quarterback allowed the secondary to make plays, McMillian said.

“They’ve been doing an awesome job all year long as far as applying pressure and making the quarterback not comfortable in the pocket. Today wasn’t any different,” McMillian said. “Guys like Joey Mbu and Tommie Mark and Eric Eiland on the edge are doing a wonderful job. It makes our job in the secondary a lot easier.”

Sophomore defensive back Adrian McDonald picked off his fifth pass of the season and led the team with 13 tackles. ┬áThe four forced turnovers on Saturday gave UH 40 for the season. Junior receiver Daniel Spencer said the Cougars’ shutout allowed the offense to become comfortable on the field.

“You don’t stress as much, where you think (that) you have to score every drive. When (SMU) has the goose egg up there all we have to do is put up three points. We were laid back and not really stressing the score,” Spencer said.

Freshman Greg Ward threw passes, rushed on designed runs, caught a touchdown pass and returned punts. Ward caught five passes for 48 yards and was a valuable weapon for the offense, said head coach Tony Levine.

“After two plays at receiver I just (thought), ‘OK, he can play receiver.’ After catching two or three punts, it was clear he was a natural,” Levine said.

Ward was second only to Spencer, who finished with 100 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions. It was the fourth time he eclipsed the century mark this season. With two touchdown passes on Saturday, which gave O’Korn 26 for the season, he surpassed Kevin Kolb’s record for touchdowns by a freshman quarterback.

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1 Comment

  • It’s tremendous to have such a versatile player in Greg Ward. John still needs to do some growing, but I’ve got to believe that he is the future of the program. It was a great revenge game for last year’s embarrassment.

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