HOUSTON (AP) Greg Ward Jr. and the Houston offense have captured all the attention for being able to score in bunches.
The Cougar defense showed Saturday night it deserved some attention as well.
Ward threw for a score and ran for another and No. 18 Houston’s defense forced four turnovers in a 34-0 romp over Vanderbilt.
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”Unbelievably impressed,” Houston coach Tom Herman said of the defense. ”Four turnovers and a shutout. There’s a lot to be impressed with. That’s a pretty good day at the office.”
Ward rushed for a 5-yard score with three minutes left in the first and then found Demarcus Ayers for an 11-yard TD in the second quarter as the Cougars led 20-0 at the half. Ward finished 15 of 23 passing for 221 yards, as the Cougars reached 8-0 for the fourth time in school history and first time since 2011.
Herman said the record means nothing heading into the final month of the season.
”That’s not to be coy, that’s not to be standoffish,” Herman said. ”It really has no bearing on how we prepare for Cincinnati because the culture that we instilled in this program is that we have 14 one-game seasons. We went 1-0 this week, and we have an opportunity to go 1-0 again against a conference opponent next week.”
Kenneth Farrow carried 16 times for 82 yards and had a 15-yard rushing score near the end of the third quarter.
Missing four players who have started on the offensive line this season, Herman said the Cougars knew they were going to have to lean on the defense.
They outgained the Commodores 371-185 and the defense collected its first shutout since a 34-0 win over SMU on Nov. 29, 2013.
”In college football, that’s a pretty hard thing to do in today’s day and age,” Herman said of the shutout.
Ayers finished with five catches for 59 yards, and Chance Allen had three receptions for 95 yards for Houston, which earned its second win over a Power 5 conference this season after winning at Louisville 34-31 on Sept. 12.
Kyle Shurmur started for Vandy (3-5) and finished 3 of 11 for just 20 yards. Johnny McCrary didn’t fare much better in relief, finishing 2 of 9 for 24 yards. They combined for three interceptions.
”I apologize for the bad ball tonight,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. ”We had to eliminate it and we didn’t but we will come back and we will get this thing fixed, that’s what I see.”
Ralph Webb rushed for 99 yards on 26 carries for the Commodores, who lost their seventh straight against a ranked opponent.
”It’s hard to win a game when you basically score 21 points for the other team,” center Spencer Pulley said. ”That is what we did. It wasn’t anybody’s one mistake. It was a whole offensive thing.”
Vanderbilt didn’t cross into Houston territory until 12:08 remaining in the third quarter.
”At the end of the day it came down to the offense, defense and special teams playing with more heart, and we just didn’t come out there and play with enough of it,” linebacker Darreon Herring said.
Adrian McDonald set up Ward’s rushing touchdown when he intercepted McCrary at the Vanderbilt 5-yard line. Steven Taylor picked off Shurmur and returned it 25 yards to the Vandy 12 to set up Ward’s touchdown pass.
”Our willingness to get to the ball and execute our defense helps us to get turnovers and helps the offense capitalize off those turnovers,” Taylor said. ”We preach run to the ball. We just run and try to make big plays.”
William Jackson, III extended Houston’s lead to 27-0 with a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown with 3:28 left in the third quarter.
Ty Cummings had field goals of 22 yards and 37 yards in the first half.
Ward set Houston’s single-season record for rushing touchdowns with his 16th, surpassing Jackie Battle’s 15 in 2006. Ward also set the career record for rushing touchdowns by a Houston quarterback with his 24th, passing Case Keenum.
The win was Houston’s sixth by 21 points or more this season, matching Baylor as the only FBS schools to do that.