Houston did not have perhaps the best player in college football in uniform Saturday as All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver was held out with a knee contusion. The Cougars still had the best player on the field in quarterback D’Eriq King, and that was more than enough.
The junior quarterback accounted for seven of Houston’s eight touchdowns as the Coogs blasted previously unbeaten No. 21 South Florida, 57-36.
King posted a career day, hitting 28-of-40 throws for 419 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions (one of those being an end-of-half Hail Mary) while rushing 12 times for a game-high 132 yards and two touchdowns.
In all, the Cougars rolled up 678 yards of total offense, averaging 7.79 yards on their 87 snaps while obtaining 35 first downs and converting 13-of-17 third downs.
Houston jumped out to a 14-0 lead before South Florida forged ties of 14-14 and 21-21 in the second quarter. Each time the Bulls pulled close, however, King was there for an answer. After the 14-14 tie, King found Marquez Stevenson for a 38-yard touchdown, their second such connection of the first half. When USF pulled even at 21-21, King hit Courtney Lark for a 30-yard touchdown with a minute left in the first half.
After South Florida lodged a safety and a field goal to pull within 28-26 early in the third quarter, King led the Cougars on an 8-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a 36-yard scoring rush, his second of the day.
South Florida responded with a 25-yard field goal to make the score 35-29, but King hit Jeremy Stevenson for a 52-yard touchdown pass, and Stevenson then caught the ensuing 2-point conversion to push the lead to 14.
Blake Barnett (288 total yards, one touchdown) closed the third quarter with a 39-yard scoring strike to DeAngelo Antoine to pull South Florida back within 43-36 to close the third quarter, which is seemingly where the Bulls wanted the game. South Florida entered Saturday 4-0 under Charlie Strong when trailing entering the fourth quarter.
But King engineered another 75-yard touchdown drive, this time allowing running back Mulbah Car to cross the threshold on an 11-yard rush.
King then added the capper at the 8:05 mark of the third quarter, hitting Raelon Singleton for a 27-yard touchdown pass.
The win announces Houston (7-1, 4-0 AAC) as a legitimate contender with No. 10 UCF in the American, while USF (7-1, 3-1 AAC) suffers the first loss they’ve spent all season flirting with.