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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.

 

Division II, Division III and NAIA title games set while FCS heads into semifinals

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Outside of a thrilling Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony, it was an empty Saturday at the highest level of college football.

But no so at the lower levels.

The divisional playoffs are cranked into high gear. Let’s take a brief look at where everything stands in each division.

FCS

Top-seeded and defending champion James Madison needed a last-second field goal to survive visiting Weber State, 31-28, on Friday night, while No. 5 seed South Dakota State routed New Hampshire, 55-14.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and winner of five of the last six national titles North Dakota State walloped Wofford, 42-10 in Fargo. No. 6 seed Sam Houston State outlasted upstart Kennesaw State, 34-27, to send the Bearkats into their fifth semifinal game in the last seven years.

Semifinals: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison — 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU; No. 6 Sam Houston State at No. 2 North Dakota State — 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2.

Division II

No. 4 seed West Florida traveled north and upset top-seeded Indiana (Pa.), 27-17 on Saturday, to send the Argonauts into their first championship game. No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Commerce fended off the option attack of No. 3 Harding (Ark.), 31-17, putting the Lions in their first title game as well.

National championship: No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. No. 4 West Florida — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Division III

In a similar dynamic to FCS, the defending champion is on a collision course with the traditional champion. In the first semifinal, defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) blanked Brockport (N.Y.), 24-0. The Crusaders will make their third trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, looking to win their second title.

In the other semifinal, Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 21-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 43-40. The Purple Raiders will play in their 20th Stagg Bowl — all of them coming since 1993, and 19 of them since ’96 — with a shot at their 13th national championship. However, Mount Union has won just — “just” — two national championships since 2009.

National championship: Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) vs. Mount Union (Ohio) — 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN at Salem Stadium in Salem Va.

NAIA

The NAIA was off this weekend, taking a break in between last week’s semifinals and Saturday’s national championship. Defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) out-gunned previously-undefeated Morningside (Iowa) 43-36 in the first semifinal, while Reinhardt (Ga.) held off undefeated Southern Oregon, 37-34 in double overtime.

National championship: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Reinhardt (Ga.) — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Minnesota lands commitment from 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle

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P.J. Fleck is going to need a bigger boat.

Minnesota has landed a commitment from the largest recruit on record, as 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle Daniel Faalele has committed to the Gophers. Faalele made the announcement on his Twitter page on Saturday night.

A 3-star recruit, Faalele is rated as the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports. He listed 20 offers, including from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and LSU.

As the story goes, Faalele did not find football; football found him. He was discovered by a recruiter from Hawaii working out at a gym in his native Melbourne, Australia. He attended a Michigan satellite camp in Australia and played this season — his first season in pads — at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In making the trip from the Land Down Under to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Faalele will be joined by a pair of IMG Academy teammates in offensive lineman Curtis Dunlap, Jr., and quarterback Zack Annexstad, who also committed to Minnesota on Saturday.

Those pledges now give Minnesota the 26th best recruiting class in the country and the sixth best in the Big Ten — but the No. 1 class in the Big Ten West — in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Minnesota’s class may not be the best in the country, but it’s among the biggest — both in size (the Gophers have 25 pledges thus far) and stature.

Texas A&M suspends DT Zaycoven Henderson amid felony gun charges

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Texas A&M defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson was suspended amid multiple felony charges on Saturday.

As detailed by Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News, witnesses say Henderson pointed a rifle at one person outside College Station’s Campus Village Apartments and threatened to kill two others and allegedly threw the gun out of a fleeing car as police arrived on the scene. The car was later tracked down by College Station officers, who discovered marijuana in the car.

He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, tampering with evidence and marijuana possession. The first charge is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in a prison. The second is a third-degree felony and the third is a misdemeanor.

He was booked into the Brazos County (Texas) jail at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Texas A&M has suspended Henderson indefinitely, which really only lasts one game as the senior from Longview, Texas, was set to close his Aggies career in the Belk Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 29 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Henderson made 35 tackles with five TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 12 starts this season. He was honored as a member of Texas A&M’s senior class at the annual team banquet earlier this weekend.

UCLA reportedly hires Paul Rhoads as defensive backs coach

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Chip Kelly has reportedly hired one of the most respected men in the business to his staff. According to a report from Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman, Paul Rhoads is on his way to Westwood to coach UCLA’s defensive backs.

Rhoads spent the past two seasons at Arkansas, the first as defensive backs coach and the second as defensive coordinator in addition to his duties with the secondary. He’s best known, of course, for his 7-year run as the head coach at Iowa State, where he took the Cyclones to three bowl games and created this viral moment before any of us knew what “going viral” went.

In addition to Arkansas, Rhoads also owns defensive experience at Auburn, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Pacific, Ohio State and Utah State.

UCLA finished last season ranked 74th in pass efficiency defense, yielding a 57.1 percent completion rate for 7.3 yards per attempt with seven interceptions against 18 touchdowns.