Of course a game between Mike Leach and Dana Holgorsen would remain scoreless for the first 23 minutes. The all-Cougar reunion between Air Raid forefathers, who were together at Iowa Wesleyan when the Air Raid was born and popularized it together at Texas Tech, took a while to get going, but when it did Leach and No. 20 Washington zipped past Holgorsen and Houston, 31-24 at NRG Stadium in Houston.
After a scoreless first quarter, Houston started the second frame — literally, Washington State punted on the final play of the first quarter — and then took its time driving 82 yards, snapping the ball 15 times and eating 7:27 of clock, finally scoring on a 13-yard, third-and-goal strike from D’Eriq King to Marquez Stevenson.
The lid now sufficiently lifted, Washington State needed only five played and 117 seconds to answer, pulling even on a 39-yard strike from Anthony Gordon to Easop Winston, Jr.
Houston (1-2) then answered that answer with a 7-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Five of those seven plays were runs, including a 1-yard King sneak to put Houston back up with 2:27 left before halftime.
Washington State (3-0) threatened to pull even just before the break, but Gordon’s end zone toss was intercepted by Houston’s Gleson Sprewell with 24 seconds left in the first half.
That lead wouldn’t last long, though. A fumbled snap gave Washington State the ball at the Houston 44 to open to begin its second half offensively, and the Cougars quickly tied the game on a 1-yard Max Borghi run.
Washington State then took the lead for good on its next touch, racing 91 yards in only four plays, including a 39-yard scoring toss from Gordon to Dezmon Paton. After a Houston field goal, Washington State took control for good when Gordon found Travell Harris for a 7-yard score with 6:43 remaining.
Houston made it interesting again with a 12-yard King run with 2:21 to play, but its ensuing onside kick was recovered by Washington State.
Gordon completed 36-of-47 passes for 440 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, and in the process became just the third FBS quarterback in the past 15 years to throw for at least 400 yards and three touchdowns over the first three games of the season, joining familiar names Graham Harrell and Patrick Mahomes.
For Houston, King threw for 128 yards and a touchdown and rushed a game-high 17 times for 94 yards and two more scores.
The teams combined to commit 19 accepted penalties for 208 yards.