Monday, November 21, 2016

Houston 36, #3 Louisville 10

Which Houston team was going to show up to play Louisville? The team that upset Oklahoma to start the season, or the team that lost to SMU and struggled to get past the likes of Tulsa, Central Florida and Tulane? It turns out that the former team showed up last Thursday, rather than the latter, and notched a stunning upset before a record TDECU Stadium crowd of 42,822.

The Good: Special teams had a big role in this win. They set the tone of the game by recovering a Louisville fumble on the opening kickoff; the UH offense would convert it into a touchdown on the very next play. Then, in the second quarter, punter Dane Roy passed on a fake punt on fourth down - his only pass attempt this season - to a wide open Byron Simpson for a first down. The Cougars would later score on that possession.

The Better: QB Greg Ward Jr didn't seem to be suffering any affects from a shoulder injury he sustained against Tulane the previous Saturday, as he completed 25 of 44 passes for 233 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions (the Coogs had no turnovers of any kind). RB Duke Catalon had a busy night, rushing for one touchdown and catching for two more, including a 50-yard halfback pass from Linell Bonner that completely befuddled the Cardinal defense. The Coogs did not have a big night rushing the ball, garnering only 64 total yards on the ground, but the offense wasn't the story of this game.

The Best: This win belongs to the Houston defense. Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson was sacked a jaw-dropping eleven times (one of those sacks being a safety late in the game) by a relentless Houston pass rush. True freshman lineman Ed Oliver was in beast mode, with six tackles and two sacks, before leaving the game with an injury in the second half. The UH defense also forced two fumbles. The Louisville offensive line could neither proptect Jackson nor go more than a few plays without a false start penalty, as the crowd noise clearly got to them. Louisville ended the game with 15 penalties including six false start flags.

What It Means: You could argue that Louisville was simply not prepared for this game, and you'd probably be right because they looked lost. However, that's not an excuse - especially since they were fighting for a College Football Playoff spot and have arguably the best offensive player in the nation on their roster - and it should not take anything away from Houston's lights-out performance. This season was a bit of a disappointment for the Coogs, but destroying Louisville before a packed, loud stadium in front of a national ESPN audience was a measure of redemption.

With the win, the Cougars reappear in the Top 25. They travel to Memphis for their final regular-season game on Black Friday.

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