CINCINNATI -- The score says blowout.
Houston 40, Cincinnati 16.
That’s too bad because the Bearcats put on a good show for the most of the night and led 16-12 early in the fourth quarter. The crowd of 40,015 at Nippert Stadium and the viewers watching on ESPN got a highly entertaining game -- until the end.
Two late interception returns for touchdown by Houston made it look more lopsided than it was. The Bearcats traded shots with the Cougars most of the night and led early in the fourth quarter. But, in the end, Houston wore UC down and won comfortably.
The stat that mattered? The Cougars out-rushed Bearcats 182 to 30. It wasn’t even that close. UC got some garbage yards late.
“Their defense handled our offensive line all night long," UC coach Tommy Tuberville said. “I thought we were able to get enough momentum to have an opportunity at the end to win the game.
“Then it exploded. Just bad decisions by the quarterbacks."
But Tuberville went back to rushing differential.
“You can’t beat any good team if you can’t run the football,"he said. “You’ve got to be able to run it. Granted they’re a good defense. They line up and put six, seven in the box. I don’t care how many they put in the box, you’ve got to be able to run it some."
The high-water mark for UC came when cornerback Alex Thomas picked off All-American quarterback Greg Ward in the end zone.
That was spark UC needed. Hayden Moore took the Bearcats 78 yards in five plays to take the lead at 16-12 (the two-point conversion failed).
Houston took the lead back on Ward’s 12-yard run on third-and-11. The call was for a pass, but when UC’s rush gave Ward 20 seconds or so, he took off and ran it in untouched.
“That’s a good weapon to have," Tuberville said.
It was 19-16 with 11:46 left.
Moore threw an interception in the next possession. The snowball was rolling, and UC couldn’t stop it.
Here are nine takeaways from the game:
1. Wild, wacky stuff
Houston was driving toward a touchdown as time wound down in the half. All-American quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was being Greg Ward Jr., which made a score look inevitable.
But Houston coach Tom Herman called a trick play. Ward threw to Duke Catalon, who pitched it Isaiah Johnson. Johnson was on his way to nice game with Carter Jacobs made slashing attempt at tackle. The ball flew loose, arching out of bounds, then back inbounds and into the hands Grant Coleman.
He avoided Nat’y Rodgers’ attempt to tackle him by the facemask and sprinted with an escort down the left sideline. His 53-yard return got it to the 19. Two plays later, Andrew Gantz hit a 37-yard field goal to tie it.
UC forced three turnovers and kept Ward in check at times.
“Our defense was better,” Tuberville said. “But they had it 40 minutes and we had it 20. That’s pretty lopsided."
UC got own down and Ward took advantage of that. He ran for 109 yards and burned UC on third down repeatedly.
“I’m a little bit disappointed on some of the third-down conversions," Tuberville said. “I’ll glad when No. 1, the quarterback, is gone. I think that’ll be it for us, unless we play them in the championship game. He extended plays and he played well on third down."
Houston was 11-for-21 on third down.
3. The answer
When Houston scored on a two-play, 54-yard drive that took 41 seconds halfway through the first quarter, you thought, "Uh oh, UC’s in deep trouble.” Thomas missed a tackle, leading to a 15-yard gain on one of the plays. Another corner, Coleman, was burnt for 39 yards for the touchdown on the other.
Moore hooked up a wide open Devin Gray for 61 yards and TD five plays later.
Then, you thought, “Maybe this won’t be a blowout.”
4. Sack attack
UC ended two straight Houston drives with sacks of Ward. The first sack was by linebacker Antonio Kennard on UC’s first blitz in two games.
Defensive tackle Slone Tongamoa got Ward on the next drive.
Ward is a dangerous quarterback to rush because he is such a good runner. He ran for 1,108 yards and 21 TDs last year, and he ran for first downs on third-and-6 and third-and-7 early against UC.
Houston solved the Bearcat rush in the second half; this was key to their win.
5. Crucial call
Coleman redeemed himself with his first career interception. He returned it 11 yards to the Houston 23.
Sure points, right?
It seemed so, especially after Moore scrambled on third-and-8 to the Houston 12 for an apparent first down. But on review, the ball was moved back a yard.
UC went for it. Let’s just say the hand off to Mike Boone wasn’t the right call. He was dropped for a 2-yard loss, and UC came away with no points.
6. Big 12 Bowl?
UC and Houston are both candidates to join the Big 12. One of the criteria the Big 12 is looking is football competitiveness.
Houston has been on the best recent run of any of the school who want in. The 33-23 win over Big 12 Oklahoma cemented that.
A win over Houston would have helped UC’s cause. But playing well against the Cougars shouldn’t hurt too badly.
7. Thursday good day
The Bearcats came in 12-4 in Thursday night games, including 9-1 at Nippert.
8. Top 10
Houston was the first top 10 team to come to Nippert Stadium since 2007. Houston came in at No. 6/7. West Virginia was No. 5 when the Mountaineers came to Nippert Nov. 17, 2007.
9. Cincinnati connection
Houston coach Tom Herman was born in Cincinnati, but he grew in Simi Valley, California. He still has family on the West Side.
Herman played at Cal Lutheran. He started his coaching career there. He spent two years at Texas as a graduate assistant. He then went to Sam Houston State as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. That was followed Texas State, Ruce, Iowa State and finally Ohio State in the same role.
He won the Broyles Award as the top college assistant in Dec. 9, 2014. A week later, he was named Houston’s head coach.
He went 13-1 in his first year with the Cougars, including a 33-30 win over UC in Houston.