By: Kristie Rieken
AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) The sixth-ranked Houston Cougars were determined to take care of business this year after Connecticut detailed their perfect season a year ago.
Greg Ward Jr. made sure they did just that.
Ward Jr. threw for a career-high 389 yards and accounted for five touchdowns in just more than three quarters to help Houston beat Connecticut 42-14 on Thursday night.
Houston’s only blemish last season came in the 20-17 loss to the Huskies when they were 10-0.
“We never use the word revenge,” coach Tom Herman said. “The word we used was atonement, to make a wrong a right. We had a chance to atone for the transgressions of last year’s team.”
Ward didn’t start that game because of an ankle injury, and there was a scary moment early in the second quarter when he took a hard hit in the midsection by Junior Joseph on a flea-flicker and had to leave the game.
But he missed just one play before returning and showed no ill effects from the blow, leading the Cougars (5-0, 2-0 American) on three more touchdown drives in the half to leave Houston up 28-7 at halftime.
Herman didn’t think missing last year’s game against UConn made this one more important to Ward.
“I think Ward’s got a chip on his shoulder every week, I don’t know that it was any bigger this week,” Herman said. “I think the whole team had a juice and a pep in their step knowing what this opponent did to last year’s team and they wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again.”
Ward and Joseph got in each other’s faces after another hit by the linebacker on a touchdown throw by Ward later in the second quarter, and it earned Joseph an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Joseph said the run-in was “totally my fault” before raving about the quarterback.
“He’s probably the best player I played against,” Joseph said. “He’s very electric. That’s why he’s in the race for the Heisman. Just a great player.”
Ward had touchdown runs of 30 and 10 yards and threw scoring passes of 3, 15 and 4 yards. He was replaced by Kyle Postma with 12 minutes remaining.
Ward doesn’t like talking about himself and deflected questions about his big game.
“The stats, I don’t think about that at all,” he said. “The only stat that I worry about is win-loss.”
Noel Thomas had a career-high 135 yards receiving and a touchdown for Connecticut (2-3, 0-2), and Bryant Shirreffs threw for 239 yards and ran for a TD.
“Losing is terrible,” Bob Diaco said. “We obviously wanted to finish phase one of our season better than 2-3. A play here and a play there, and that would have been the case.”
CONNECTICUT: The Huskies didn’t commit any turnovers after being plagued by them in recent weeks, but they were simply overmatched by the Cougars on both sides of the ball.
HOUSTON: The Cougars continued the dominance they’ve shown all season, having no trouble putting away the Huskies after last year’s misstep. With Ward leading the offense and a swarming defense which finished with four sacks, it’s hard to imagine that anyone has much of a chance to beat the Cougars before their Nov. 17 showdown with No. 3 Louisville.
The Cougars should maintain their spot in the poll after cruising past an opponent they were expected to beat. But they could jump a spot or two if any of the teams above them lose on Saturday.
The Cougars weren’t slowed by playing without three starters on Thursday. Running back Duke Catalon missed the game with a concussion and linebackers Tyus Bowser and Matthew Adams both sat out after a fight on Wednesday during games meant for team building.
“The two got over competitive,” Herman said. “Things briefly got out of hand during one of the games and resulted in a scuffle between Tyus and Matt … it was a freak accident and the result of the scuffle was a broken bone for Tyus.”
Bowser will be out for a few weeks with the head injury and Adams was suspended for Thursday’s game but will return next week.
BONNER IMITATES IDOL
Linell Bonner had a highlight-reel play when he stretched out to grab a reception with one hand for a touchdown that pushed Houston’s lead to 42-7 in the third quarter. He finished with 12 receptions for 159 yards _ both career highs. The one-handed catch was reminiscent of some of the grabs DeAndre Hopkins often makes for the Houston Texans.
Bonner was asked if that catch was a Hopkins impression.
“That’s my favorite NFL receiver right now. I really look up to him so I could say yeah,” Bonner said before flashing a huge smile.
CONNECTICUT: The Huskies host Cincinnati on Oct. 8.
HOUSTON: The Cougars visit Navy on Oct. 8.
(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)