CFN Take: Houston Falls Short Late To Cincy
Posted Dec 6, 2014

Houston Cougars 2014 ... Head Coach: Tony Levine

2014 Houston Cougars

2014 Schedule
Record: 8-4

Aug. 29 UTSA L 27-7
Sep. 6 Grambling W 47-0
Sep. 11 at BYU L 33-25
Sep. 20 UNLV W 47-14
Oct. 2 UCF L 17-12
Oct. 11 at Memphis W 28-24
Oct. 17 Temple W 31-10
Nov. 1 at USF W 27-3
Nov. 8 Tulane L 31-24
Nov. 22 Tulsa W 38-28
Nov. 28 at SMU W 35-9
Dec. 6 at Cincinnati L 38-31
Dec. 6 at Cincinnati 38, Houston 31
And You Care Because … In a wild shootout, the Cincinnati defense held in the final moments as Houston’s fourth down pass play into the end zone to try to force overtime fell incomplete to give UC a piece of the American title. Mike Boone ran for three short touchdowns for the Bearcats and Gunner Kiel threw two scoring passes, but Greg Ward Jr. and the Houston offense wouldn’t go away. Ward found Markeith Ambles for an 89-yard touchdown early in the fourth, and pulled within seven on a 26-yard pass play to Demarcus Ayers with just over five minutes to play. But that was as close as the Cougars would get, stalling on the final play on the UC 11.
What Else? Total yards: Houston 594 – Cincinnati 500
- Cincinnati QB Gunner Kiel completed 15-of-24 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns, and Munchie Legaux completed 10-of-14 passes for 158 yards
- Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. completed 27-of-45 passes for 360 yards and two touchdowns with a pick, and ran 11 times for 84 yards and a score
- Cincinnati RB Mike Boone ran 17 times for 85 yards and three touchdowns
Game Rating: A-

Nov. 28 Houston 35, at SMU 9
And You Care Because … Greg Ward Jr. ran for three touchdowns from 38, four and five yards out, and Kenneth Farrow ran for third quarter scores from 11 and 14 yards away as Houston ran away for the win. SMU held a 9-7 halftime lead after Jeremiah Gaines caught a 67-yard touchdown pass late in the first half, but it was all Houston the rest of the way with 28 unanswered points.
What Else? Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. completed 17-of-28 passes for 144 yards with a pick, and ran 14 times for 93 yards and three touchdowns
- SMU QB Matt Davis completed 13-of-27 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown, and ran 20 times for 70 yards
- Houston RB Kenneth Farrow ran 18 times for 110 yards and two scores
- Total yards: Houston 433 – SMU 223
Game Rating: C

Nov. 22 at Houston 38, Tulsa 28
And You Care Because … Kenneth Farrow ran for two-one-yard runs to give Houston an early 14 point lead, and ran for a 45-yard scoring dash, but Tulsa was able to tie it up on two short touchdown runs and a 17-yard Keyarris Garrett scoring pass. With the score tied at 28 late, Houston scored ten unanswered points on a two-yard Kenneth Farrow run and a 35-yard Kyle Bullard field goal. Tulsa turned it over three times with a late pick from Adrian McDonald leading to the late field goal.
What Else? Houston RB Kenneth Farrow ran 21 times for 116 yards and four scores
- Tulsa QB Dane Evans completed 28-of-40 passes for 258 yards and two scores with three interceptions, and ran six times for 34 yards and a touchdown
- Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. completed 17-of-22 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown and ran eight times for 37 yards
- Time of possession: Tulsa 33:11 – Houston 26:49
Game Rating: B

Nov. 8 Tulane 31, at Houston 24
And You Care Because … Tulane scored 17 straight points in the second half with Leondre James catching a nine-yard touchdown pass and Dontrell Hilliard running for a one-yard score for a 14-point lead. Houston got a nine-yard Deontay Greenberry touchdown catch with just over a minute to play, but that was it for the Cougar rally. Tanner Lee threw three touchdown passes for the Green Wave including a 12-yarder to Teddy Veal in the first and a 63-yard play to Hilliard in the second.
What Else? Turnovers: Houston 4 – Tulane 2
- Tulane RB Dontrell Hilliard ran 25 times for 85 yards and a touchdown, and caught
- Tulane QB Tanner Lee completed 24-of-35 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns with an interception
- Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. completed 31-of-45 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns with three picks, and ran 18 times for a team-high 59 yards
Game Rating: B-

Nov. 1 Houston 27, at USF 3
And You Care Because … Houston sputtered offensively at times, but it got a one-yard Kenneth Farrow touchdown run in the first quarter and a one-yard Ryan Jackson run in the third to cap off two long drives. USF finally got on the board with a 33-yard Marvin Kloss field goal late in the third, but it was all Cougars in the fourth with an eight-yard Farrow touchdown catch and a 24-yard Jackson run for 14 unanswered points.
What Else? Houston RB Kenneth Farrow ran 22 times for 112 yards and a score, and caught two passes for seven yards and a score
- USF QB Steven Bench completed 12-of-25 passes for 147 yards and an interception
- Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. completed 15-of-19 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown, and ran seven times for 26 yards
- Total yards: Houston 306 – USF 222
Game Rating: D+

Oct. 17 at Houston 31, Temple 10
And You Care Because … Houston took advantage of a sloppy game with four takeaways and two touchdown passes from Greg Ward Jr. to come up with the easy win. Trevon Stewart took an interception 29 yards for a Cougar touchdown, and Ward Jr. found Deontay Greenberry for a seven-yard score and Ryan Jackson for a 30-yarder for a 31-10 third quarter lead. Temple’s lone touchdown came on a 39-yard Keith Kirkwood catch late in the first half.
What Else? Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. completed 29-of-33 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns, and ran 13 times for 44 yards
- Temple QB P.J. Walker completed 12-of-29 passes for 259 yards and a score with three picks, and ran eight times for 49 yards
- Turnovers: Temple 4 – Houston 0
- Penalties: Temple 11 for 88 yards – Houston 10 for 106 yards
Game Rating: C-

Oct. 11 Houston 28, at Memphis 24
And You Care Because … Houston bounced back from a 21-14 halftime deficit scoring on a three-yard Ryan Jackson run and a 25-yard Markeith Ambles touchdown grab in the second half. Memphis pulled within four on a 31-yard Jake Elliott field goal, but the O couldn’t get any closer turning it over twice in the final minutes. Greg Ward Jr., making his first start at quarterback for the Cougars, ran for a 64-yard score to help battle a big first half from Paxton Lynch, who threw two touchdown passes and ran for a score for the Tigers. However, three picks turned out to be a killer.
What Else? Turnovers: Memphis 5 – Houston 3
- Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. completed 14-of-25 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and led the team with 95 rushing yards and a score on 17 carries
- Memphis QB Paxton Lynch completed 26-of-37 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns with a rushing touchdown and three interceptions
- Total yards: Memphis 368 – Houston 354
Game Rating: B

Oct. 2 UCF 17, at Houston 12
And You Care Because … Down five late, Houston’s wild rally fell just short as Greg Ward dove for the end zone pylon and fumbled the ball just inches short of the goal line for a touchback and a UCF win. The Knights had a 17-6 lead into the fourth on two Justin Holman touchdown passes including a 52-yarder to Breshad Perriman, but Houston’s Kyle Bullard kept the game alive with field goals from 39, 42, 51 and 49 yards out. Ward almost pulled it out.
What Else? Penalties: Houston 11 for 99 yards – UCF 10 for 99 yards
- UCF QB Justin Holman completed 6-of-18 passes for 101 yards and two scores, and ran nine times for 32 yards
- Houston QB Greg Ward completed 10-of-17 passes for 116 yards, and ran for nine yards, and John O’Korn completed 12-of-26 passes for 98 yards with two picks
- Total yards: Houston 331 – UCF 228
Game Rating: C

Sept. 20 at Houston 47, UNLV 14
And You Care Because … UNLV scored first on a three-yard Keith Whitely run, and then it was all Houston with 30 straight points with John O’Korn throwing two touchdown passes and running for a score and Daniel Spencer running for touchdown runs from 35 and 16 yards. The Cougars scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth after UNLV pulled within 16 in the third on a one-yard George Naufahu run.
What Else? Houston RB Ryan Jackson ran 13 times for 147 yards and a score and caught a 26-yard touchdown pass. Kenneth Farmer ran 14 times for 113 yards and a touchdown
- Penalties: UNLV 11 for 105 yards – Houston 9 for 110 yards
- Houston QB John O’Korn completed 12-of-27 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns with two picks and ran ten times for 27 yards and a score
- Rushing yards: Houston 399 – UNLV 170
Game Rating: D+

Sept. 11 at BYU 33, Houston 25
And You Care Because … BYU built up a 23-0 first quarter lead but had to push in the second half after Houston rallied. Jamaal Williams ran for an 11-yard score and Taysom Hill ran for a five-yard touchdown and found Mitch Mathews for a short score to put the Cougars up early, but Houston roared back late in the first half with 15 points in the final few minutes helped by two John O’Korn touchdown passes. BYU took the momentum back on Williams’ second scoring run, but once again, the D had to on as O’Korn and Greenberry hooked up for their second touchdown connection of the game. The Cougars were able to hang on.
What Else? If BYU could look lousy and still come up with a big win, it did it. With 11 penalties, three turnovers, and a slew of silly mistakes, the Cougars did their best to keep the other Cougars alive.
- BYU QB Taysom Hill was terrific, completing 21-of-34 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown, but he threw two picks. His real worth was on the ground, running 26 times for 160 yards and a score, while Jamaal Williams ran 28 times for 139 yards and two touchdowns.
- Houston QB John O’Korn completed 30-of-52 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. Houston ran 13 times for ten yards.
- Houston got outplayed and couldn’t stop the BYU ground game, but it kept fighting. O’Korn did his best, but there were too many stalled drives and BYU was able to control the clock when it had to.
Sept. 6 at Houston 47, Grambling 0
And You Care Because … Houston got past the doldrums of its miserable Week One performance as John O’Korn threw for 200 yards and a score and Kenneth Farrow ran for 130 yards and a score. The score could’ve been much, much worse, but the Cougar offense kept stalling with Kyle Bullard kicking four field goals. Grambling was flagged 15 times for 147 yards and turned the ball over six times.
Game Rating: D-

Aug. 29 UTSA 27, at Houston 7
And You Care Because … UTSA took advantage of six turnovers and a stifling pass rush to pull off the shocker. Davis Glasco ran for two scores, Jarveon Williams ran for an 11-yard score, and Sean Ianno hit two field goals and the defense did the rest on the way to a 27-0 lead and an easy win. Houston didn’t finally get on the board until the final minute.
What Else? UTSA will take the win without a problem, but it was hardly a thing of beauty. The Roadrunners committed 14 penalties for 115 yards, and Houston couldn’t stop giving the ball away with John O’Korn throwing four picks.
- It’s not like the UTSA offense did much of anything. The running game went almost nowhere, and the passing attack was pedestrian, but the defense teed off with three sacks and several pressures to confuse O’Korn.
- Conference USA got a huge win while the American Athletic suffered a massive setback. Houston has some rebuilding to do, but not like this.
- The Cougar defense actually wasn’t that bad. LB Derrick Matthews made 16 tackles and a sack, but the offense couldn’t stop screwing up.
Game Rating: D+

2014 Preview 

Houston is about to take a page out of its own past.

The Cougars through the years are best defined by their former gunslingers, such as David Klingler, Andre Ware, Kevin Kolb and Case Keenum. Sophomore John O’Korn could be next in line to ring up monster numbers through the air. He put down a very solid foundation as a true freshman in 2013, throwing for 28 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards.

And now he returns most of his top receivers, namely Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer, and running back. After lacking efficiency on offense in 2013, the Cougars are going to be a handful for American defenses this year.

Houston embarked on a new era last season, going 8-5 in its debut in the American. It was a particularly important rebound for head coach Tony Levine, who got off to a sluggish 5-7 start as the successor to Kevin Sumlin in 2012. Now, the Cougars, armed with a deep veteran roster, are eyeing their first conference since 2006.

Now that O’Korn is a year older, the offense expects to be markedly more efficient, especially since the team has weapons up and down the depth chart. But this is no one-dimensional team, fueling its title hopes. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs performed miracles in his first season at Houston, and his attacking unit should be every bit as opportunistic in 2014.

The Cougars allow yards, sure. However, they compensate with takeaways, 43 last season to easily lead the country. And Houston didn’t just generate a lot of turnovers. They also yielded 14 fewer points and 68 fewer yards per game than in the previous year. Stingier, ball-hawking defense plus an up-and-coming offense will equal a lot of wins for the Cougars this season.

Houston still needs to get over the hump. Three straight November losses to UCF, Louisville and Cincinnati by an average of six points remain fresh in the players’ minds. Still, there’s a growing sense that the Cougars are on the brink of an exciting revival. The coach is young. The quarterback is on the tarmac. The league is new. And the program is set to unveil a new $100 million state-of-the-art stadium to recruits in the region. There’s a lot to be excited about for the Cougars and their fans, as the program braces for a run toward 10 wins and an American crown.

What to watch for on offense: Ward-ing off predictability. Opposing defenses know about QB John O’Korn, WR Deontay Greenberry and the backfield tandem of Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow. But sophomore Greg Ward is a somewhat secret who’ll add a new dimension to the attack. While he arrived as a quarterback, the 5-10, 175-pounder is too athletic to keep on the sidelines. The Cougars plan to use Ward at wide receiver, though the plan is to get the ball in his hands in numerous ways to keep defenses guessing.

What to watch for on defense: Who replaces Zach McMillian and Thomas Bates at cornerback? Turnover at corner is arguably the biggest concern for the Cougars entering 2014. The program is set at safety with all-star candidates Trevon Stewart and Adrian McDonald, which is comforting for the defensive backfield. But there’s going to be a mad scramble at cornerback, with former JUCO transfers William Jackson and Turon Walker duking it out with a pair of FBS transfers, Lee Hightower (Boise State) and Tyler White (Utah).

This team will be far better if … the offense delivers when it matters most. Houston looks the part on offense, with all of its talented athletes, but the end results weren’t always up to the staff’s liking. In 2013, the Cougars were 93rd nationally in third-down conversions and 85th in red-zone touchdown percentage. It’s no wonder that the team couldn’t get out of neutral in three November losses to UCF, Louisville and Cincinnati, when it averaged just 15 points per game.

The Schedule: With four home games in the first five, the Cougars have a shot at a great start. However, the lone road game is at BYU, and the end of the homestand is against UCF - who's still excellent. There isn't really a big run of road games until the end, with the final two dates at SMU and Cincinnati that'll make or break the season, but with so many winnable home games, the Cougars should be in the hunt for the conference title all season long. In non-conference play, along with the trip to BYU, dealing with UNLV won't be easy, but starting out the year with UTSA and Grambling at home will help.

Best Offensive Player: Junior WR Deontay Greenberry. Greenberry’s breakout sophomore season didn’t just benefit him personally. It helped with rookie QB John O’Korn transition to the lineup, which means the entire offense benefitted from the receiver’s pass-catching heroics. Greenberry is a quarterback’s best ally, because of his size, 6-3 and 198 pounds, his yards after the catch and his ability to go up high to pluck balls out of the air. With a full year together, O’Korn-to-Greenberry will be one of the nation’s underrated pitch-and-catch combos of 2014.

Best Defensive Player: Junior FS Trevon Stewart. Stewart is a microcosm for everything that Houston wants to be on defense. He’s fast, he’s frenetic and he knows how to get his hands on the ball. In fact, he led the country with 10 turnovers a season ago. Beyond just the numbers, though, Stewart brings a certain irreplaceable vibe and swagger to the Cougar D. When he gets going, which is often, his energy becomes contagious to the fans, the sidelines and the rest of his defensive teammates.

Key player to a successful season: Junior DE Trevon Randle. Does Houston need Randle this year? Technically, no. But his potential is so high that he’s liable to elevate the defense to a higher level. Randle is the former LSU Tiger, who was supposed to play linebacker in 2013 before being shut down by the staff for an undisclosed reason. Now he’s joined an already deep rotation up front, with the intent of bringing more explosiveness to the Cougar pass rush. If the 6-2, 218-pound Randle is finally able to deliver on his four-star ranking, the entire defense is going to feel the impact.

The season will be a success if ... the Cougars win 10. Houston is a better all-around team than it was a year ago, when it went 8-5, so 10 victories shouldn’t be out of the question. The team is loaded on both sides of the ball, and the American became a little weaker after the departures of Louisville and Rutgers to the ACC and Big Ten, respectively. Oh, and the Cougar schedule is soft, including a pair of September visits from FCS teams, Grambling and Tennessee Tech, and avoiding East Carolina.

Key game: Dec. 6 at Cincinnati. Could the American title rest on the outcome of this pivotal tilt at Nippert Stadium? It’s possible, since both schools are expected to be in the hunt all year. The Cougars won’t have many nasty road games, save for a Sept. 11 trip to Provo to face BYU and this finale in Ohio. Cincy held off Houston last November, 24-17. This year’s meeting could hinge on the right arms of a pair of sophomores, Cougar John O’Korn and Bearcat Gunner Kiel.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Takeaways: Houston 43 – Opponents 18
- Third-quarter scoring: Houston 119 – Opponents 50
- Touchdown passes: Houston 30 - Opponents 15

- 2014 Houston Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

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