Big (12) Statement: No. 15 Houston takes down No. 3 OU

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They didn’t just win it, they ran away with it.

No. 15 Houston raced past No. 3 Oklahoma on the back of a 30-7 run to beat the Sooners 33-23 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Greg Ward, Jr., led the day for Houston, hitting 23-of-40 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns, while Texas transfer Duke Catalon pounded out 88 yards on 22 carries. After a rough start, Houston’s defense proved stronger than Oklahoma’s offense, especially up front. Houston limited OU’s powerful running game to just 70 yards on 2.7 yards per carry while holding Oklahoma to just six points in the second half.

The win gives Houston back-to-back wins over AP Top 10 teams for the first time in school history, and will send the Cougars into the Top 10 in the regular season for just the second time since 1991. For Oklahoma, it’s the third time in the past 12 seasons the Sooners have started the season in the AP Top 10 and lost their opener to a non-Power 5 opponent, mirroring opening day losses to TCU in 2005 and to BYU in 2009.

Oklahoma’s offense started roaring out of the gate. The Sooners marched 79 yards on eight plays for an opening drive touchdown, capped by a 30-yard Joe Mixon run, then hit a 60-yard connection to Mixon from Baker Mayfield on their next snap. That drive ended in a field goal, giving OU a 10-3 lead at the time. Houston rallied to take a 13-10 lead, but Oklahoma ripped it right back on a 64-yard pitch-and-catch to a wiiiiiiide open Mark Andrews.

But Houston proved to be the deeper, more physical, better coached team.

The Cougars used two Ty Cummings field goal to take a 19-17 lead at the half, then pushed the advantage to 26-17 on a 109-yard — and, really, 109.999-yard — kick six by Brandon Wilson.

After forcing a fumble on their next defensive possession, Houston marched 51 yards in 12 plays, culminating in a two-yard toss from Ward to Tyler McCloskey to push the lead to 33-17 with 2:15 to play in the third quarter.

While Houston’s special teams and offense grabbed the lead, the defense maintained it. After allowing Andrews the uncovered touchdown, Houston limited Oklahoma to three punts, the kick six, two fumbles and a Hail Mary of a turnover on downs, in which Oklahoma felt its best option, trailing 33-17 midway through the fourth quarter, was to go for a 4th-and-16 at its own 44. The play ended in Yakety Sax fashion, with Mixon picking up a Mayfield fumble and running himself into a seven-yard loss. Mayfield, by the way, hit all nine of his passes in the first half and ended the day with a worse-than-it-looked-on-the-field 24-of-33 for 323 yards and two touchdowns. Mixon led Oklahoma with 124 total yards on 11 touches, and Samaje Perine posted a quiet six carries for 31 yards after missing most of the game with a shoulder injury.

Houston committed its only mistake of the day on the ensuing possession as Ward fumbled a zone read exchange near the Oklahoma goal line, turning a potential 40-17 coffin nail score into a breath of life for Oklahoma. The Sooners responded by marching 80 yards in eight plays, but Mayfield’s two-point pass fell incomplete.

The Cougars recovered the ensuing onside kick and exhausted the 2:05 remaining on the clock.

 

For Houston (1-0), it’s arguably the biggest win in school history. The win keeps their — however faint — national title hopes alive while also proving the program can match and better the Big 12’s premier program on the field. This game was not an audition, win or lose, but it is an incredibly nice showing in front of expansion power brokers in OU president David Boren and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

And for Oklahoma (0-1), it’s a scene from many recent horror movies. The 2005 and 2009 opening day upsets led to disappointing eight-win seasons for the Sooners. In fact, the last four seasons that opened with Oklahoma ranked in the AP’s top four, as they were today, ended in disappointment. This one appears headed that way as well, with a defense that couldn’t get Houston off the field, an offense that had no counter-punches to Houston’s defense and a schedule that sends Ohio State to Norman in two weeks.