Instant observations: Houston takes on Cincinnati for the American Athletic Conference championship

Photo by Dave Campbell's Texas Football

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Houston’s 11-game winning streak was snapped in the American Athletic Conference championship game by a Cincinnati program destined to become the first G5 team to reach the College Football Playoffs. The Cougars hung in for the first half, trailing 14-13 after two quarters of play as Clayton Tune was efficient and the defense grew into the contest. A dominant third quarter provided the Bearcats with enough breathing room to cruise to a 35-20 victory. 

The Bearcats took over in the third quarter. Cincinnati outscored the Cougars 21-0 in the third quarter to build an insurmountable lead of 35-13 entering the fourth. The first touchdown of the third quarter came after Houston was flagged for pass interference on fourth down. Tune threw an uncharacteristic interception on the next drive, leading to a quick 14-point swing by the Bearcats to start the second half. Jerome Ford would turn a Houston fumble into another score to put the game away with 7:38 left in the third quarter. 

THREE OBSERVATIONS 

Cincinnati is special: The Bearcats deserve to be the first G5 program to reach the College Football Playoff after a 12-0 season that included a win at Notre Dame. Cincinnati proved its mettle in the third quarter, taking over the game thanks to a trio of mistakes by the Cougars. It was win-and-your-in following the Oklahoma State loss, so style points weren’t necessary, but that dominant third quarter gave Cincinnati all it needed to punch its ticket to a national semifinal. The defense is tremendous, and the offense is explosive. Tune was sacked eight times, and the Bearcats registered 12 tackles for loss. The offense created four touchdowns of 20 yards or longer, including a 79-yard run by Ford. 

Houston should be proud: There’s plenty to be happy about as a Cougar fan. Houston rebounded from a Week 1 loss to reel off 11 straight victories prior to the buzzsaw known as Cincinnati. The Cougars head into 2022 with plenty of reason for optimism. Tune shook off a four-interception performance in Week 1 to end the year on all-conference teams. Running back Alton McCaskill set a school record for rushing touchdowns by a freshman in a season. Nathaniel Dell is a real weapon. The defense, headed up by a defensive line known as “Sack Ave.” was one of the best in the nation. And Marcus Jones led the nation in interceptions and return touchdowns. It was a great season for the 11-2 Cougars. 

The Big 12 is in good shape: The departures of Texas and Oklahoma won’t doom the Big 12 to second-tier status. Saturday proved that the Big 12 is in great shape moving forward. Baylor and Oklahoma State battled in an exciting game for the Big 12 Championship with the Bears coming out on top with a last-second defensive stop. Cincinnati and Houston – both future Big 12 members – look poised to compete for years to come under solidified coaching staffs located in fertile recruiting grounds. 

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