HOUSTON (AP) — John O'Korn and the Houston Cougars survived a big scare against South Florida.
O'Korn was 22 of 27 for 263 yards and three touchdowns and Houston forced a late fumble to beat the Bulls 35-23 on Thursday night.
Deontay Greenberry caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown, and Kenneth Farrow had rushing and receiving touchdowns for Houston (7-1, 4-0 American Athletic Conference). The Cougars are only FBS team to score in every quarter this season.
Making his first career start, Mike White was 26 of 41 for 311 yards and two touchdowns for the Bulls (2-6, 2-2). Andre Davis caught nine passes for 134 yards, and Mike McFarland had two touchdowns. South Florida was penalized 19 times for 170 yards.
"It was tough because it was the first time all year we played that well," South Florida coach Willie Taggart said. "It was tough on our kids to be down like we were in the comeback and lose the game. It's tough. It's tougher on our kids because they fall hard. They practiced well, fell hard, got in that game, and we had a chance there at the end, but it didn't go our way."
Following a muffed punt by Houston, South Florida recovered at the Houston 27 with 6 minutes remaining. Davis was called for offensive pass interference on a catch that would have put the Bulls on the 1.
Taggart said he was told the Davis pushed off on the play.
"I saw a catch, a touchdown," Taggart said. "I wasn't over there on that side and it is what it is."
Houston coach Tony Levine, who was on the side of the play, saw it differently.
"In my mind, I went from no to yes very quickly," Levine said. "It's a judgment call, and they thought the receiver from South Florida pushed off. It was a critical play in this game."
On the next play, Tyus Bowser sacked White and forced a fumble that Jeremiah Farley recovered at midfield.
Levine said his team had poise and confidence to send the defense back out on the field following the muffed punt.
"We would not have wanted to muff that punt certainly, but to send them back out there and know that they have to stop them from scoring a touchdown, I had great confidence in that," Levine said.
O'Korn completed an 11-yard pass to Aaron Johnson on third-and-7 to the South Florida 21, and Farrow capped the drive with a 5-yard scoring run with 1:40 remaining.
"We were able to execute and get into the end zone at the end of the game," Farrow said. "Everybody did what they had to do and pick up the slack. I was excited to see them get the stop and go out there and make up for my mistake (an earlier 15-yard personal foul)."
Trailing 28-16, South Florida trimmed Houston's lead to five on a 2-yard touchdown pass from White to McFarland on fourth-and-goal. The play capped a 14-play drive.
The Cougars wasted little time upping the lead to 28-13 on a 48-yard touchdown strike from O'Korn to Greenberry 33 seconds after the Bulls had cut the lead eight.
"O'Korn is not your typical freshman," Greenberry said. "He rarely makes the same mistake twice. He is a great attribute for our team."
Houston took little time scoring, taking three plays to go 64 yards, capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass from O'Korn to Xavier Maxwell with 12:49 left in the first. On the first play of the drive, O'Korn hit Greenberry with a quick slant across the middle, and Greenberry took it 49 yards to the 15.
The Cougars extended their lead to 14-3 with a 3-yard shovel pass from O'Korn to Farrow with a minute to go in the opening quarter, capping a 14-play, 93-yard drive.
South Florida answered with an 8-yard touchdown pass from White to McFarland with 11:25 remaining in the first half. The touchdown was the Bulls' first on offense since Sept. 28 against Miami.
"It felt amazing, just to be able to know we are coming together as a team to score," McFarland said about getting an offensive touchdown. "There was never really any pressure. We just know we have the plays, and we needed to execute them."
Houston responded with a 6-yard touchdown run from Ryan Jackson 1½ minutes later to open a 21-10 lead.
Marvin Kloss made field goals of 39, 50 and 49 yards for South Florida.