Cincinnati’s played with belief for three and a half quarters on Thursday night against No. 6 Houston, a legit College Football Playoff contender coming off its huge win against Oklahoma in Week 1. Eventually the dam broke, and a 28-point fourth quarter (couple of pick-sixes paired with two Greg Ward Jr. touchdown runs) highlighted all of the Cougars’ powers in a 40-16 win.

Maybe it was the uncertainty of Greg Ward Jr.’s availability, the health of his shoulder, or perhaps it was a result of the energy coming from the blackout home crowd in Nippert Stadium on a Thursday night. The Bearcats played fearlessly, aggressively and caused all kinds of problems for Houston.

Tom Herman sees correctable, self-inflicted mistakes, but the Cougars should not be blamed for some truly incredible bounces that went Cincinnati’s way, too. Just before halftime, Cincinnati was able to tie the game 10-10 with a field goal set up by a 53-yard fumble return.

Like much of this game’s box score, describing the play only as a 53-yard fumble return doesn’t do it justice. Unfortunately, a failed double reverse trick play blown up into miraculous non-penalty sideline fumble recovery doesn’t flow well off the tongue.

It was undoubtedly the wildest fumble of the season so far.

Where the game turned: Tempo, Houston’s defense

At some point, very good defensive play became tired defensive play for Cincinnati, as Houston’s up-tempo attack ran up the play count for the Bearcats in the second half. It didn’t help that they kept getting short breaks on the sideline, either, but some of that credit is saved for the Cougars’ defense.

Defensive coordinator Tony Orlando has another fiery squad. It starts up front with instant-impact freshman lineman Ed Oliver, but its lifeblood is creating turnovers and game-changing plays. As a low-scoring near upset turned into a runaway victory, it was the defense scoring as often as Greg Ward Jr.

Greg Ward Jr. health update: pain

The star quarterback was visibly struggling during the game, favoring the shoulder that required an MRI after the Oklahoma win. Ward carried a heavy load of the offense, recording 26 rushing attempts (73 yards, two touchdowns) and throwing for 326 yards (1 touchdown, 2 INTs).

“It’s really not about me, it’s about the team. Whatever I do, I do it for the team,” Ward told ESPN after the game. “I was dealing with a lot of pain, but it really doesn’t matter. I was good enough to play, so I came out here and gave it my all and the team got the win.”

Tom Herman would later tell reporters that his understanding is that “it’s going to take some time” for full recovery, though the shoulder appears to be healing.

Source: CBS Sports / Houston proves it can rely on defense with late rally against Cincinnati