Houston head coach Tom Herman worried before the season began about his team’s conference opener at Cincinnati. After seeing how the Cougars played early on the road Thursday night, it turns out those fears were spot on.
Defense, dropped passes and strange plays dominated a sloppy first half of play in Cincinnati, as the Bearcats were able to limit the normally prolific Houston offense to just a single touchdown and headed into the locker room tied at 10-all after two quarters of play of the AAC opener for both teams.
Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. returned to action for Houston after injuring his shoulder and missing the team’s blowout win over Lamar last week. He lofted a beautiful 39 yard strike to Chance Allen in the first quarter to show that his arm looked just fine but had issues throughout the half finding receivers because of a lack of protection from his offensive line. The Heisman Trophy candidate did pick up several first downs with his legs but took a number of shots that caused him to get up slowly.
The Bearcats defense, led by their very active line in the trenches, limited the visitors to just 3.6 yards per rush and picked off Ward during the second quarter. Linebacker Antonio Kinard was in on an impressive 12 tackles in the first half alone.
The Cincy offense didn’t quite bring the same amount of effort, stalling several times on drives into UH territory and finding the end zone just once on a busted play that resulted in a 61 yard touchdown for Devin Gray.
All that was just building up to the strangest moment of the game — and possibly the season so far. Houston ran a double reverse that was setting up to be a sneaky trick play but Isiah Johnson was hit by safety Carter Jacobs, jarring the ball into the air and inexplicably back onto the field.
Grant Coleman ended up picking the ball up off the turf and returning it back into Houston territory to setup a late Cincinnati field goal that tied things up going into halftime.
Given how things went, it could be a wild final few quarters between the two AAC rivals.