CINCINNATI — Greg Ward Jr. returned from a one-game absence and ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns to help No. 6 Houston — steadied by its fabulous defense — pull away to a 40-16 victory over Cincinnati on Thursday night.
The Cougars (3-0, 1-0 American Athletic) trailed 16-12 early in the fourth quarter before Ward and the defense took over. Ward had the scoring runs to regain the lead, and the Cougars returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns to close it out.
Ward sat out a 42-0 win over Lamar on Saturday with a sore shoulder. He came through pregame warmups fine Thursday and dispelled any worries about his arm with a 39-yard touchdown pass on the Cougars' second series.
Houston's defense took away any semblance of a running game from Cincinnati (2-1, 0-1) and accounted for 16 points on its own — a safety and the two interception returns.
The Cougars haven't allowed any of their last five opponents to rush for 100 yards. Cincinnati managed only 30 yards rushing, putting too much pressure on redshirt sophomore Hayden Moore.
HOUSTON: Oh that defense. The Cougars didn't need to get a lot out of their offense — and Ward wasn't at his best — in order to win a tough league game on the road. That's another good sign in a season that opened with a 33-23 win over Oklahoma.
CINCINNATI: The Bearcats have been overly reliant on a pass-heavy offense the last two years. The defense's showing on Thursday was encouraging — it simply wore down. The defense also looked solid during a 38-20 win at Purdue on Saturday, coming up with five interceptions.
HOUSTON: The Cougars have their highest ranking since they were No. 3 in 1990. Any chance to move up? The top three teams in the poll — Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State — all play road games against ranked teams this week, while Michigan and Clemson are at home.
CINCINNATI: The Bearcats got one vote in this week's poll, and did nothing to suggest they deserve more.
HOUSTON: The Cougars will be looking for another easy time at Texas State on Sept. 24. Last year, Ward led them to a 59-14 win by throwing for four touchdowns and running for two more as Houston piled up 689 yards.
CINCINNATI: The Bearcats host Miami of Ohio on Sept. 24 for the Victory Bell. They've won 10 in a row over their local rival, although Moore had to overcome four fourth-quarter turnovers last year to pull out a 37-33 win in Oxford.
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org