The good, bad and ugly: Rushing game shines, offensive line suffers against SMU
Leading up to Houston’s short turn around to play Southern Methodist University on Thursday, head coach Tom Herman was already running over SMU as he placed Mustang jerseys on the floor leading to the UH locker room.
Perhaps it was a metaphor of what was to come as the Cougars rushed for seven touchdowns en route to a 49-28 victory over the Mustangs.
But Thursday night had all the qualities of an upset.
Houston was playing against a 1-4 SMU team with their backs to the wall, who had competed well with top three teams in No. 3 Baylor University and No. 2 Texas Christian University.
The Cougars’ defense started off slow in the first half, the 12th man was absent and they looked to be in trouble early against the Mustangs’ offense.
The good: Greg Ward, Jr. and Kenneth Farrow
Earlier this week, Herman said he had to clean up what the team was doing in the red zone.
“We had seven trips in the red zone and all of them resulting in touchdowns,” Herman said. “We really responded offensively to the two points of emphasis going into this week. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to accomplish the things that we’ve set in front of us.”
Junior quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. rushed for 82 yards with four touchdowns and completed 16 of 18 passes for 243 yards.
Less than halfway through the season, Ward has set a Cougar record for most rushing touchdowns in a season with 11 and was tied for first in the Football Bowl Subdivision with Louisiana State University running back, Leonard Fournette, following the game.
The way he’s been playing, he’s on his way to double the UH record as he continues to improve in the pocket.
“Really good things happen when he (rushes), but you’d like for him to be able to survive,” Herman said. “You’d like those carries to go down a little bit, but to finish 16 of 18 for 243 yards, 16 of 18 is pretty good in my book.”
Senior running back Kenneth Farrow is coming into his own this season after putting up 159 yards against Tulsa with two touchdowns.
SMU’s defense held Farrow to only 40 yards on 11 carries, but couldn’t keep him out the end zone as he scored a season-best three touchdowns.
“It is something that we work on in practice,” Farrow said. “It is a big emphasis for us. It is just a result of what we did all week and all the hard work and preparation that we put in.”
The bad: First-half defense
The defense in the first quarter was nowhere to be seen as SMU scored in their first two possessions to take a 14-7 lead over Houston.
“I’ve got to go back and look at the way we planned for that short week because we got pushed around a little bit on defense in the first half,” Herman said. “That’s very uncharacteristic of us, especially in the first quarter.”
In the second quarter, shortly after Houston tied it up at 21 a piece, senior corner back Lee Hightower forced an SMU fumble as Houston recovered at their 43.
The Cougars were able to capitalize on the turnover with 44 seconds left in the quarter.
Ward led the Cougars on a scoring drive to close out the half with momentum on their side and a 28-21 lead.
“It was a huge momentum shift to be able to yank that momentum back and go in with some confidence into halftime,” Herman said.
Houston’s defense turned around in the second half holding SMU to only one touchdown.
“Honestly, we didn’t make any adjustments,” junior linebacker Steven Taylor said. “We just came out and played hard. They came in and hit us in the face early, and I’m really proud of our defensive line for responding.”
The ugly: Offensive line injuries
Herman has already said the offensive line is not the deepest position on the team, and it continues to take major blows as injuries pile up.
Senior lineman Ben Dew suffered a foot injury earlier in the season that put him out for the year and on Thursday night, sophomore offensive lineman Josh Thomas was also out of the game with an injury.
During the second quarter, senior offensive lineman Zach Johnson suffered an injury that put him out for the remainder of the game as Ward completed a pass for a first down.
Senior captain and offensive lineman Alex Cooper was banged up in the third quarter, as Farrow rushed in for a touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, sophomore offensive lineman Marcus Oliver also suffered an injury as he helped sophomore running back Javin Webb rush for a first down.
There is no word on how severe the injuries are, but Houston will need as much rest as they can get to recover before heading to face Tulane University next weekend.