The first game of the Tom Herman Era was a success, but things get much tougher for the Cougars this week at Louisville. The Cardinals are 12-point odds favorites with a total of 54.
Ward Leads Cougars' Offense
Herman brought a national championship pedigree with him to Houston -- he was Urban Meyer's quarterbacks coach and playcaller at Ohio State. Herman was actually hired last December but stayed with the Buckeyes through the College Football Playoff. Smart move. Herman, who won the Broyles Award last year as the top assistant coach in college football, replaced a fired Tony Levine in Houston.
The Cougars opened the season with a 52-24 victory over FCS school Tennessee Tech. Greg Ward Jr. completed 21 of 28 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown. The dual threat also ran for 107 and two scores on 13 carries. Houston had 627 yards of offense. Ward became the first UH player since Oct. 25, 2003, to finish with 100 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in a game. Ward started his career at Houston at quarterback, then moved to receiver and returned punts before moving back to the QB spot in the fifth game of last season.
It was the most total yards by a Houston team in a season opener since the Cougars also had 627 in a 62-13 2013 win against Southern. Herman became the third head coach in school history to lead the Cougars to at least 50 points in his inaugural game. The others were current Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin in 2008 and Bill Meek in 1955. Herman was the eighth Houston coach to win his inaugural game. The Cougars finished with 272 rushing yards on 44 carries, including six touchdowns. It was the first time Houston had rushed for six TDs since Sept. 10, 2010, a 54-24 win over UTEP. UH held Tennessee Tech to 29 rushing yards, the fewest for a Houston opponent since Oct. 21, 2006 vs. UTEP.
The Cougars were picked to finish second in the West Division of the American Athletic Conference this season.
Louisville Sticking With Freshman QB
Louisville lost its season opener 31-24 to No. 6 Auburn on Saturday; it was 24-0 early in the third quarter before Louisville made it respectable. Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino surprised most by playing freshman Lamar Jackson the bulk of the snaps under center. Reggie Bonnafon, who was expected to be the main guy at QB, played into the second quarter before giving way to Jackson for good after a fumbled handoff with Louisville driving gave the Tigers a 14-0 lead. Jackson finished 9-for-20 passing for 100 yards, but led the team in rushing with 106 yards on 16 carries, including a 10-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He was the first Louisville QB with 100 yards rushing in 41 years.
"He really gave us a lift," Petrino said of Jackson. "We had four series in the second half. We got three touchdowns and a field goal. He made a lot of big plays, some of them with his legs, some of them with his arm."
Jackson was listed as the starting quarterback on the U of L depth chart released to the media on Monday as well. Bonnafon is listed in the No. 2 QB position, followed by Kyle Bolin and Will Gardner (who started much of last season before getting hurt; he's currently dealing with a rib injury and wasn't an option to play vs. Auburn). Bonnafon was sacked three times and completed 8 of 13 pass attempts for 67 yards against Auburn.
Some bad news for Louisville in that top receiver James Quick suffered a severely sprained ankle in the game and isn't likely to play vs. Houston. Quick had 36 catches for 566 yards and three scores last season and four grabs for 28 yards against Auburn. Sophomore Charles Standberry and true freshman Traveon Samuel are the top candidates to start in Quick's place. Fellow receiver Jamari Staples, who missed the Auburn game with a knee injury suffered in practice last week, is uncertain for this week. Freshman Jaylen Smith would start again for him. Tight end Cole Hikutini hurt his shoulder vs. Auburn but probably will play here.
U of L has won three straight in this series, last in November 2013.
NCAAF Free Picks: Louisville has not lost as a double-digit favorite since being upset by 14-point college football odds underdog Central Florida at home on Oct. 18, 2013. And I don't think the Cardinals will fall here, either. But I'm taking the points & going 'over' the total for this Saturday's college football pick.