HOUSTON -- — Donovan Smith threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns, Samuel Brown had 106 yards receiving and Houston held on for a 17-14 win over UTSA on Saturday night in a season opener and the Cougars’ first game as a Big 12 Conference member.
Smith, who was 22-of-34 passing, threw touchdown passes of eight yards to Joseph Manjack IV in the first quarter and six yards to Matthew Golden in the third as Houston built a 17-7 lead. The Cougars finished with 334 yards of offense.
“I had a lot of first game jitters,” Smith, a Texas Tech transfer said. “I have to relax and do what I was taught. I felt like we left a lot of yards out there. It’s just good to come out with a win.”
Houston coach Dana Holgorsen described the win as good, ugly and disciplined, with the Cougars playing well in all three phases of the game.
Frank Harris was 18 of 36 for 209 yards passing with a touchdown, but he was intercepted three times in the span of five minutes in the third. Kevorian Barnes rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown for UTSA, which finished with 417 yards.
“We didn’t play winning football,” UTSA coach Jeff Traylor said. “Two-thirds of the triangle we did. We held them to 100 yards rushing. We were physical. I’m proud of that. Offensively, we rushed for over 200 yards. You can tell we can impose our will with our three running backs. Our passing game was not very clean. Obviously, three turnovers are hard to overcome.”
After UTSA cut the lead to three on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Harris to Joshua Cephus with 5:42 remaining, Houston was able to run out the clock, including a crucial 3-yard gain by Smith to just get the first down with 1:45 remaining. Initially, Smith was ruled down a yard short, but after review and a measurement, Houston was given a first down.
“We knew we were going to have a couple different things on those third-and-2, third-and-3 plays,” Holgorsen said of Houston’s ability to convert two third downs on the final drive to seal the win. “Donovan is a big dude, who can fall forward. As soon as they said ‘It’s going to the 48, and we’re going to measure,’ I said, ‘Oh boy, this is going to be interesting. We got it by like that much.”
Houston has beaten UTSA in consecutive season openers after outlasting the Roadrunners, 37-35, in triple overtime last season in San Antonio.
UTSA: The Roadrunners, which joined the American Athletic Conference this season, had issues staying on the field going 4 for 13 on third downs and also committed eight penalties for 64 yards. … UTSA had an even offense with 209 yards passing and 208 yards rushing.
Houston: The Cougars’ defense kept Harris under pressure for most of the night, which contributed to the three interceptions. Two of the interceptions were by Malik Fleming. … Houston had issues rushing the ball, finishing with 101 yards on the ground.
“We showed we are a defense that has a lot of potential to be great,” Fleming said.
LUV YA HOUSTON
The Cougars wore alternate “Luv Ya Houston” uniforms, which paid homage to the “Luv Ya Blue” Houston Oilers jerseys. The jerseys are a powder blue with Houston in italics on the helmet.
UTSA: Hosts Texas State Saturday.
Houston: Plays at crosstown rival Rice on Saturday before hosting TCU on Sept. 16 in its Big 12 Conference opener.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll