It’s almost like this exact scenario has played out before. Tom Herman inserted a backup quarterback and found instant success, as Kyle Postma led No. 24 Houston from 20 down to beat No. 21 Memphis 35-34 Saturday night in Houston.
Memphis grabbed a 3-0 lead after one – it was just the third time Houston had been blanked in a quarter this season, and first time outside of a fourth quarter blowout – and pushed the lead to 20-0 with a pair of Paxton Lynch touchdown passes when Herman replaced a gimpy, ineffective Greg Ward, Jr., with the little-used Postma on the Cougars’ final drive before the half. Postma immediately delivered, hitting four of his first five throws, including a 30-yard scoring strike to Linell Bonner to put Houston on the board.
Houston continued its momentum by opening the second half with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped by a seven-yard Kenneth Farrow scoring jaunt.
But Memphis responded, pushing the lead back to 20 by moving 68 and then 66 yards on its next two touches for a pair of rushing touchdowns.
Trailing 34-14 entering the fourth quarter, Houston raced 75 yards in six plays, punctuated by another Farrow touchdown run, then seemingly was in business after recovering a Doroland Dorceus fumble at the Memphis 20. The Cougars, though, had a touchdown taken off the board at the 10:06 mark of the fourth when tight end Tyler McCloskey was ruled an ineligible receiver downfield after hauling in an apparent Postma touchdown pass. They would later turn the ball over on downs.
Houston’s defense again responded as Elandon Roberts intercepted Lynch and returned the ball to the Memphis 39. Houston scored seven snaps later – consuming a precious 2:19 – when Javin Webb pushed in from one yard out.
With the score 34-28, Houston’s defense forced an immediate three-and-out, and the Cougars prowled 77 yards in nine plays – all but two coming on Postma’s arm or leg, including a seven-yard dash that gave the Cougars their first lead of the game at the 1:27 mark of the fourth quarter.
Memphis mounted one final drive for the win, but Jake Elliott‘s 48-yard field goal sailed wide right.
Postma, a sophomore that entered the night with six attempts on the entire season, completed 21-of-33 passes for 236 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions while rushing six times for a team-leading 49 yards and a touchdown. He essentially replaced the production Houston expected out of Ward, who notched only 60 passing yards on 5-of-11 passing and was sacked five times before exiting with a banged up ankle. Farrow and Webb combined to rush 14 times for 69 yards and three scores.
Lynch hit 20-of-31 passes for 278 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, plus 43 rushing yards. Dorceus carried 26 times for 116 yards with a score and a fumble.
The win pushes Houston (10-0, 6-0 AAC) one game closer to a winner-take-all date with No. 20 Navy for the American West. All that separates the Cougars from that Black Friday affair in Houston is a trip to Connecticut next week.
Memphis (8-2, 4-2 AAC) saw its CFP party-crasher hopes evaporate with its loss to Navy last week, and now sees any realistic hope of a conference title and Group of Five bowl berth go out the window as well.