Just a mere week from now the eyes of the college football world will turn to a scintillating early matchup as No. 3 Oklahoma faces No. 15 Houston at NRG Stadium. The highly anticipated contest will feature two of the nation’s most exciting quarterbacks, and as we all know what Baker Mayfield can do, the Cougars’ own daredevil playmaker is not short on dynamic talent or explosive plays either.
Greg Ward, Jr., initially played wide receiver his first two seasons at Houston but made the switch to quarterback after the arrival of former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman as coach prior to last season. Since then, the 5’11, 180 lb., spark plug has become the perfect fit in Herman’s system and enters this season a dark horse Heisman contender. Fans might remember the Cougars’ 38-24 upset win in the Peach Bowl last season over a likely disinterested but still vastly talented No. 9 Florida State team, as Ward clearly outplayed his counterpart, FSU’s Sean Maguire, and has his team poised to make even more noise this season. He is the prototype dual threat, amassing 200 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in every full game he played last season, and despite Florida State’s clear advantage in talent, Ward still threw for 238 yards, added 67 on the ground and accounted for three touchdowns to lead his underdog Cougar team to the bowl victory against the Seminoles.
In SB Nation’s preview of the upcoming OU-UH matchup, guys much smarter than me at X’s and O’s break down how to stop or slow down Ward as the Sooners will have to face one of the most dangerous playmakers they will all season right out of the gate, boosted by what is sure to be a lively and energized home crowd behind him. None of us need a refresher on the troubles so many dual-threat signal callers have given recent Mike Stoops’ defenses.
Despite being undersized for the next level, Ward certainly has the arm talent to hurt any defense, last season throwing for 2,828 yards, 17 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. But his superior running and play-extending abilities put him in a class of his own, as he carried 173 times for 1,253 yards and 21 touchdowns at a blazing 7.2 yards per attempt. He has at times displayed the tendency to trust his legs too often and abandon the pocket a bit prematurely, but after another offseason in this system Ward will likely be more polished and present in the pocket in 2016. It is a tough matchup for any opponent to take on the talented and experienced OU defensive front, but the skill set and leadership of Ward would have even the nation’s top defenses on alert.
The work Tom Herman did with Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett at Ohio State point to the type of QB he saw the opportunity to mold when he took the Houston job. Another familiar name that has much to do with the recent success of the Cougars offense is none other than Major Applewhite. No intros needed here, and with one look at Ward’s dimensions and playing style, this was a destined match made in dual-threat QB heaven. As things have come together for a Houston program clamoring for a Power 5 invitation, an early season clash with one of college football’s elite blue bloods provides the perfect showcase. As both OU and Houston enter this season with high expectations, prolific offenses and exciting playmakers, this game is ripe with talent looking to start the season with a signature Heisman moment.