Ward’s Wildcat package takes pressure off O’Korn

A mere 38 seconds into the game, red fireworks streaked through the air above TDECU Stadium — the Cougars had scored their first meaningful points of the season.

UH took an early lead in just two plays, but its starting quarterback wasn’t under center. It was sophomore Greg Ward scampering 12 yards into the endzone from Cougars’ Wildcat package.  

Although sophomore quarterback John O'Korn wasn't quite on his game, he completed 14 passes for 200 yards.  |  Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

With sophomore quarterbacks John O’Korn (left) and Greg Ward Jr. (right) dividing the snaps under center, head coach Tony Levine must take the time to decide who the right choice is for every play.  |  Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

During UH’s 47-0 victory against Grambling State on Saturday, sophomore John O’Korn and Ward split time at quarterback. And with the speed and versatility Ward brings to the table, head coach Tony Levine said he will continue to see time as signal caller in the Cougars’ Wildcat package.

“It’s a change of pace, and it gives opponents something else to think about,” Levine said. “Going back to what I said in the past, I do not think he’s a Wildcat quarterback; I think he’s a dual-threat quarterback… I think it can give us a spark as well, and whether we do it six times or twenty-six times, an opponent is going to have to prepare for that.”

The two combined to present a dual threat that was difficult for Grambling to defend.

O’Korn threw for 200 yards, tossed a touchdown pass and spread the ball around to six receivers while Ward rushed for 25 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 19 yards and a touchdown.

Ward also tossed an on-target strike to junior receiver Deontay Greenberry that would have been a touchdown if it were caught.

Though some quarterbacks have become frustrated by losing snaps to the Wildcat, O’Korn said he was unbothered because it provides more opportunities for one of the most talented athletes in the program to thrive.

Ward starts at wide receiver and returns punts on top of his duties as a quarterback in specific packages.

“We have so many athletes all over the field,” O’Korn said. “(Offensive coordinator Travis) Bush says it best: ‘No matter who this ball goes to, after it leaves your hands it’s going into a playmaker’s hands.’ We’re not worried about who has the ball because we know someone’s going to make a play.”  

Inserting Ward at quarterback was a change in strategy for the coaching staff, which moved him to receiver this offseason. Levine said he wanted to find ways to get Ward on the field.

Ward didn’t take any snaps under center in the season-opening 27-7 loss to UTSA when O’Korn struggled to find a rhythm and didn’t lead the Cougars on any scoring drives.

By adding the Wildcat package and running the ball more — UH had 40 rushes against Grambling — the team hopes to take pressure off its young quarterback.

“People have got to understand he’s still a sophomore. He’s still learning things,” Bush said. “Defenses are targeting him more. We have not performed to our expectations on offense. It just seems that we’re off sync sometimes. Whether we miss a pass or turn it over, we’ve got to get all eleven on the same page.”

The tests will only get tougher for O’Korn and the Cougars’ offense, and they’re coming up quickly. The team travels to Provo, Utah for a mid-week matchup with BYU on Thursday at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

The blue Cougars feature a defense that has held two opponents to 17 points combined and a fringe Heisman candidate at quarterback who could put pressure on the red Cougars to score points. BYU’s Taysom Hill leads his team in passing with 244 yards per game and rushing with 98 yards per game.

But O’Korn isn’t putting pressure on himself to match Hill’s production. He said the Cougars will be fine if they play their game.

“It comes down to us making plays, and me getting the ball to the playmakers,” he said.

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