HOUSTON – Winning the turnover battle is among the biggest reasons why Houston earned a 24-13 win over Temple in the American Athletic Association championship on Saturday. All season long the Cougars have enjoyed the best turnover ratio in the AAC and it's easy to see why, with a team that goes hard to the ball on defense and takes care of it on offense.
One could argue that the explosive running of Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was the main key for victory and that would be a fair assessment.
Ward rushed for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries and enabled the Cougars to take a 24-3 lead before watching the defense stop Temple twice on the final two possessions on fourth down.
And while Ward was spectacular, the basic, but essential formula of winning the turnover battle was a major reason for Houston's title game win.
Houston committed no turnovers and caused two, one which led to seven points. Temple committed turnovers on its first two possessions, with P.J. Walker throwing an interception on the first series that led to a Cougars touchdown. It not only gave the Cougars the lead, but also some added confidence.
"For our offense to take the ball after the turnover and go down and score a touchdown was a big sigh of 'hey we can do this against this defense,'" Houston coach Tom Herman said.
Temple's Robby Anderson fumbled on Temple's second possession as the Owls were marching toward the end zone. Houston recovered the fumble on its own 9-yard line.
"We got rhythm early, but we had two turnovers and it kind of stalled us, but I am not going to point to any one thing," Temple coach Matt Rhule said.
That's true, it wasn't just one thing, but winning the turnover battle was going to be essential.
The Cougars now have a +17 turnover differential. By comparison, Temple's turnover margin is plus 4.
It is uttered frequently that the winner in the turnover department is likely to win the game. It happened in this instance.
"We never took the ball away from them," Rhule said. "Credit them."