HOUSTON (AP)—Brock Berlin was pretty much the only thing keeping Miami from a lopsided victory. His coach noticed, too.
Tyrone Moss had the best rushing day of his short career and the fourth-ranked Hurricanes scored touchdowns on defense and special teams to offset an erratic performance by Berlin in a sluggish 38-13 victory over Houston on Thursday night.
“I’m very disappointed in the passing game,” Miami coach Larry Coker said. “We didn’t get much at all. We’ve got to get back and work on it.”
Moss, a sophomore, rushed for 148 yards and two touchdowns, Tavares Gooden recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a score and Baraka Atkins scored on a 58-yard fumble return in the Hurricanes’ first road game of the season.
Miami (3-0) worked a little harder than it expected against Houston, which was playing its fourth game in 19 days and hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent in eight years.
Berlin played a big role in the Hurricanes’ struggles. He finished 13-of-23 for 99 yards and was sacked seven times, often because of his own poor decisions in the pocket.
“We were a little shaky at times,” Berlin acknowledged. “I don’t know what the final stats were, but I need to be more consistent.”
Miami also allowed its first offensive touchdown of the season: Kevin Kolb’s 6-yard scamper into the end zone in the final moments of the first half. The Cougars’ sideline erupted in celebration, with a few players tossing their helmets into the air.
The Hurricanes had gone 11 quarters and an overtime without giving up an offensive touchdown.
Thought to be a national title contender, Miami revealed plenty of glaring flaws against a team that was a four-touchdown underdog and was without its leading rusher. The Hurricanes were pushed around on defense by Houston’s inexperienced offensive line and never could sustain any offensive momentum.
“You don’t want to search for morale support, and we’re not,” Houston coach Art Briles said. “But I think there is a touch of reality in there.”
Houston tailback Anthony Evans, who rushed for 282 yards against Army last week, missed the game after straining his right calf during pregame warmups. He watched from the sidelines in his uniform, leaning on crutches with a boot on his leg.
Predictably enough, Houston got off to a rough start without him.
The Cougars (1-3) barely got their first play off on time, dropped a pass on the third play, committed a false-start penalty on the next and were nearly intercepted on third down. Gooden scored on Anthony Reddick’s blocked punt on fourth down, 55 seconds into the game.
Frank Gore and Moss added a couple of short scoring runs to give Miami a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The Hurricanes didn’t score again on offense until Moss’ 5-yard run late in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we confused their offensive line and QB a lot,” said Houston defensive end Joe Clay, who had three sacks. “It seemed like nobody knew what we were doing. For the most part, I think we shut them down.”
Miami left tackle Eric Winston had a more myopic view of the Hurricanes’ offensive problems.
“Lackluster is the word,” Winston said. “We got up early a couple of touchdowns and we just packed it in a little bit. We’ve got to learn to put people away.”
Houston, which lost 63-13 at No. 2 Oklahoma two weeks ago, seemed to gain confidence by the minute against the punchless ‘Canes.
The Cougars even junked much of their unique pass-based offense in the second half in favor of running the ball right at the nation’s second-ranked defense.
“It took us about a quarter to calm down,” Kolb said. “I was a little jittery in the beginning, but I calmed down and we started to click.”
The Cougars still failed to score on several chances deep in Miami territory. The Cougars drove inside Miami’s 20 five times, and came away only with Kolb’s touchdown run and two field goals.
Ryan Gilbert, a transfer from LSU, proved to be an adequate replacement for Evans. He rushed for a career-high 84 yards on 26 carries. Kolb was 11-of-28 for 156 yards.
This was the first meeting between the teams since Miami routed David Klinger and the Cougars 40-10 in 1991 at the Orange Bowl. It remains ESPN’s highest-rated Thursday night game.