A brief glance at the stats page from the season opening game between #15 Houston and #3 Oklahoma showed what appeared to be an even game.
But the box score told a different tale.
The Cougars upset the Sooners, taking advantage of critical turnovers in the second half, while chewing up the clock to the tune of 35 minutes of possession, to Oklahoma's 25 minutes. And, a stat that didn't appear in the box score, was the 109-yard 'kick six' by Brandon Williams of Houston, that completely changed the momentum.
Down two points, Oklahoma's defense stuffed two runs and sacked Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. to force a 3 & out for the Cougars on their opening drive of the second half. Following the defensive stand, their offense chewed up 4 minutes and 30 seconds of time, but they stalled at the Houston 36 yard line, forcing an attempted 53-yard field goal.
The attempt fell short, and Williams caught it at the back of the endzone and, using a couple of key blocks, raced an estimated 109.9 yards, about as long as a touchdown return as you can have in football, back to the opposing endzone, expanding their lead to nine points, rather than being down by one. The Sooners fumbled on their next possession, leading to another Houston touchdown, and the underdogs never looked back from there, taking control for a 33-23 victory.
Ward led the Houston offense, going 23-40 for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Duke Catalon engineered the rushing attack, churning out 88 yards over 22 carries.
Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield had a solid night of his own, going 24-33 for 323 yards with two touchdowns, but their rushing game failed to penetrate a stiff Houston defense for most of the night, with Joe Mixon leading the attack, gaining 40 yards on 12 rushes.
Oklahoma rides strong first quarter to early lead
Although their running game failed to gain much traction in the later parts of the game, Oklahoma featured a strong ground game in their first drive, a strong, 8-play, 79-yard drive that took just over three minutes. They didn't face so much as a third down during the drive.
Running back Samaje Perine had the first big play of the day, breaking off a fifteen-yard run, bringing the Sooners into Houston territory. A series of small plays led to Mixon's big play of the day, a 32-yard touchdown run for the early 7-0 Oklahoma lead.
Houston rebounded with a field goal, a solid drive after being pinned on their own 11-yard line. Ward brought the Cougars out of the shadow of their own end zone immediately, connecting with his favorite receiver on the day, Steven Dunbar, for 19 yards. Catalon broke off further chunks of big-time yardage with runs of 21 and 11 yards, sandwiched around a Ward incompletion. Oklahoma helped out Houston later in the drive, as the Cougars had stalled, facing a 3rd and 9 at the Oklahoma 37-yard line, on the edge of field goal range. Ward's pass for Dunbar was incomplete, but a pass interference on Oklahoma's defense cost the Sooners fifteen yards. Houston stalled again, but the Cougars were well within the range of Tyler Cummings, who kicked four field goals on the day.
Cummings rescues red-zone struggling Cougars
While their offense was cruising over most of the field, Houston could not convert in the red zone, forcing them to resort to Cummings to salvage points out of their long drives. Starting their second drive on their own seven-yard line, Ward swung a fifteen-yard pass to Catalon on second down to bring them over their own twenty-yard line. Ward made three more big completions on the drive, connecting with Dunbar for a pickup of fifteen, Isaiah Johnson for sixteen more, and Dunbar again, that one for a whopping 32 yards that brought the Cougars to the Oklahoma 9. However, they would get no further, as their drive brought a close to the first quarter. Cummings booted a fairly easy 26-yard kick in for three points, closing the Cougars within 10-6.
Houston forced a three & out on Oklahoma's next possession, and Ward went to work, completing five passes, three to Linell Bonner to give the Cougars their only touchdown of the first half. Ward slung one completion to Bonner for 19 yards, bringing Houston right around midfield. However, the big stinger in the drive came on a deep 44-yard completion, a critical connection between Ward and Johnson to bring the Cougars within 25 yards of the end zone. Ward whipped out two more completions, a ten-yarder to Bonner and a TD toss to Catalon, giving the 2015 Peach Bowl winners their first lead of the game.
Oklahoma was quick to respond, using an effective play-action to break off a big 64-yard touchdown play, as Mayfield found a wide-open Mark Andrews for the score. Houston got two more field goals to end the half, as a pair of promising drives ended with field goals from Cummings. An Oklahoma penalty sparked their next drive, allowing them to use a series of small runs and passes to get within Cummings' range for a 33-yard field goal.
Houston got the ball back with 2:32 remaining, but they were stuck on their own 8-yard line. Catalon got the drive kickstarted with a 19-yard run, before a roughing the passer penalty on the Sooners kept the drive alive for the Cougars. Ward hit Bonner for two completions totaling 34 yards in the final 20 seconds to give Cummings the opportunity to nail a 47-yarder to give Houston the lead for good.
Big third quarter seals the deal for Houston
With the momentum starting to shift in Oklahoma's favor, Williams came up with the backbreaker, accelerating up the field in his 109-yard return to destroy Oklahoma's hopes. The Sooners didn't help their case by fumbling their next possession away, allowing Houston to come up with a touchdown to seal the deal. The play took 12 plays and over five minutes, chewing up most of the remainder of the third quarter.
Ward kept the drive alive with a third-down completion to Dunbar for 22 yards, before Oklahoma's defense committed another key penalty, a pass interference that brought Houston to the 2-yard line. Ward tossed the touchdown pass to Tyler McCloskey to increase the lead to 33-17.
The squads traded punts throughout a rather dull fourth quarter that didn't see any points go up on the scoreboard until the end of the quarter, when Oklahoma put together a late drive to make the final scoreline respectable. Mayfield made big completions to Mixon, Dede Westbrook, and Geno Lewis, before polishing off the drive with a 25-yard scoring pass to Andrews.
However, after the two-point conversion attempt failed, and Houston recovered the onside kick, the late drive proved to be too little too late, as Oklahoma's playoff chances took a hit with the loss, while Houston proved themselves a potential contender for the College Football Playoff.
Other Upsets in College Football
Houston wasn't the only team to pull of an upset on Saturday. Wisconsin edged #5 LSU 16-14, #16 UCLA wasted a late comeback and fell in overtime, 31-24 at the hands of Texas A&M while South Alabama made a late comeback to stun Mississippi State 21-20.