PASADENA, CALIF. —Collectively, the University of Houston’s performance Saturday may have been one the squad would like to forget, but as for individual performances‘, former Patterson High School standout Trevon Stewart’s was his best yet.
Stewart, a true freshman defensive back, led the Cougars with 16 tackles (14 solo tackles and two assists) and a pass breakup in Houston’s 37-6 loss to No. 22 UCLA at the Rose Bowl Saturday.
Stewart also returned a kickoff 16 yards.
While Stewart was a standout on defense, Houston’s high-scoring offense never got untracked Saturday night because of a hard-hitting UCLA defense and its own mistakes.
That combination nearly resulted in the Cougars’ first shutout loss in almost 12 years.
“They played well, which gave our offense trouble,” first-year Houston coach Tony Levine said after the loss. “They’ve got a tremendous pass rush and they showed it in their first two games.”
The teams combined for 11 turnovers — six by Houston. Sheldon Price tied a school record with three of UCLA’s five interceptions against Houston’s David Piland.
“As well as the defense played, our offense should have produced, and we didn’t,” Piland said. “That’s on me. We’ve got a lot to work out this week. “
The Cougars are off to their first 0-3 start since 2001, when they went 0-11. They were 13-1 last season including a 38-34 season-opening victory over the Bruins, but coach Kevin Sumlin left for Texas A&M and many of their best players moved on as well.
“I thought there were things we did poorly last week we improved on, especially tackling against a great UCLA offense,” Levine said. “When you create that many turnovers, it gives you a chance to win the game. Unfortunately, we turned it over on our end offensively.”
Redshirt freshman Brett Hundley completed 27 of 42 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, Johnathan Franklin gained 110 yards on 25 carries, and Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked three field goals for the Bruins to help the unbeaten Bruins earn their third straight victory under first-year coach Jim Mora.
“We played outstanding defense tonight except for one play,” said Mora, referring to an 86-yard run by Piland with 4:54 remaining that kept the Cougars from being shut out for the first time since Texas beat them 48-0 on Sept. 23, 2000. “We’re still trying to put it all together. But you take a win any time you can get it.
“We’re 3-0 going into conference play and that’s a real positive.”
The Bruins (3-0) face Oregon State (1-0) in the Pac-12 opener for both teams next Saturday at the Rose Bowl, where an enthusiastic crowd of 53,723 watched UCLA dominate Houston from start to finish.
Franklin, a senior who averaged 215.5 yards in his team’s first two games to rank first nationally, moved into second place on UCLA’s career rushing list with 3,210 yards. Gaston Green gained 3,731 yards in the 1980s.
Piland completed 28 of 60 passes for 249 yards with the five interceptions.
UCLA finished with 29 first downs and 567 yards of total offense. The Bruins averaged 649.5 yards in their first two games to rank third in the country. Houston finished with 14 first downs and 388 yards in total offense. The Cougars averaged 31 points and 395.5 yards in their first two games.
The Bruins led 17-0 after a dominant first half. The lead might have been bigger but for three second-quarter turnovers in Houston territory.
UCLA went ahead for good on the game’s second play when linebacker Eric Kendricks returned Piland’s errant backward pass intended for Ronnie Williams 23 yards for a touchdown.
The Bruins moved 90 yards on 17 plays on their third possession, scoring on a 7-yard pass from Hundley to Datone Jones to make it 14-0. It was the first career reception for Jones, a fifth-year senior who starts at defensive end.
UCLA appeared on the verge of scoring again before D.J. Hayden picked off Hundley’s sideline pass at the Houston 9 on the first play of the second period.
But UCLA forced a punt and Steven Manfro returned it 27 yards to the Cougars 26, setting up a 35-yard field goal by Fairbairn.
Houston was unable to capitalize after recovering fumbles at its 31 and 29 on the next two UCLA possessions. The Cougars crossed midfield for the first time after the second recovery, but Matt Hogan was wide left on a 46-yard field goal.
Damien Thigpen returned the second-half kickoff 55 yards, setting up a 45-yard, six-play scoring drive capped by Hundley’s 12-yard pass to Jordan James.
The Bruins committed their fourth turnover midway through the third quarter, but Tevin McDonald’s 50-yard interception return two plays later set up a 23-yard field goal by Fairbairn. An interception by Price on Houston’s first play following the kickoff set up a 33-yard field goal by Fairbairn that made it 30-0.
Houston reached the UCLA 12-yard line early in the final period before Price made his third interception in the end zone for the Cougars’ sixth turnover.
Manfro’s 14-yard run with 3:10 remaining completed the scoring.