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Houston defeats South Florida to remain undefeated in conference play

Junior quarterback D’Eriq King led the Cougars with seven touchdowns against USF. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

Houston faced No. 21 South Florida in a shootout Saturday and came out with a big 57-36 win at home.

The game was close for three quarters, but big defensive plays paired with the explosive offense allowed the Cougars to pull away late.

The Cougars were without star defensive tackle junior Ed Oliver, who was out with a knee contusion.

Houston started the game with the ball, and after converting a pair of three and longs, junior quarterback D’Eriq King made a huge run for 47 yards and a touchdown.

Houston picked up the momentum on its second drive and scored when King shuffle passed on a jet sweep to sophomore receiver Marquez Stevenson for a 15-yard touchdown.

Even without Oliver, the defense continued its recent trend of strong performances and held the Bulls to just 64 yards of offense in the first quarter.

But after seeing the defense without Oliver for a full quarter, USF made positive adjustments and scored on its first drive of the next. The Bulls were able to move the ball on the ground through the gaps near the center of the line, and junior running back Jordan Cronkrite ran through one hole to score.

The Bulls caught a break when a throw by King hit the turf while a defender tried to catch it. The referees called it an interception, and the play was not reviewed. USF started its next drive with a big play when freshman running back Johnny Ford ran for a 32-yard touchdown.

Houston responded immediately with a five-play, 84-yard drive that culminated in a 38-yard touchdown pass to Stevenson. The series took just 1:38.

USF marched back up the field with its own long drive, though it was considerably slower. Ford finished the drive with a 17-yard run.

The Cougars’ offense was unfazed and responded with another quick drive. King threw another long pass, and junior Courtney Lark brought it in for a 30-yard touchdown to give the team a 28-21 lead at the half.

King finished the half 16-for-22 with 232 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in the air and seven rushes for 74 yards and a touchdown. His second interception was on a Hail Mary at the end of half.

After a strong defensive effort, Houston got the ball on its one-yard line. King threw a ball to no one while in the end zone pocket, which caused an intentional grounding penalty and a safety to make the game 28-23.

Despite gaining good field position off the free kick after the safety, the Bulls were unable to convert and had to settle for a field goal.

On a fourth-and-seven, King broke five tackles and rushed for a 36-yard touchdown to give the Cougars a 12-point lead. Houston held South Florida in the red zone again and held them to another field goal.

On its next possession, Houston increased its score to 41 with a 52-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman Jeremy Singleton. The Cougars decided to go for a two-point conversion and got it with an end-around trick play, which ended with a short toss from redshirt freshman Bryson Smith to Singleton.

With the score 43-29, USF started to go through the air more in an effort to catch up quickly. It worked as the Bulls moved up the field in Cougar-like fashion with a 75-yard drive that took 2:07.

The Cougars responded in kind with a long drive, but this time it was junior Mulbah Car who ran it into the end zone to give the Cougars a 14-point lead.

As the Bulls tried to score again, senior cornerback Nick Watkins made an interception in the end zone to save the play and give the Cougars the ball. On the next drive, senior Raelon Singleton pulled in another touchdown toss, this time for 27 yards.

That was the final score of the game after USF fumbled on its next possession.

King finished the game with 419 yards through the air and 132 on the ground as well as seven total touchdowns. Senior linebacker Austin Robinson led the defense with nine tackles and a forced fumble.

The Cougars will travel next week to Dallas to face the Mustangs at 6 p.m.

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