CINCINNATI - Thursday games are not a large part of Tom Herman's experience, but the Houston coach is quickly playing catchup.
His undefeated and sixth-ranked Cougars are scheduled to play the first of this season's four non-Saturday night games this week when they travel to Cincinnati to face the Bearcats in the American Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
"It's not a bad thing on the back end," said Herman, whose team played one Thursday game last season - his first in a long time, he said. "You like it when you can take a deep breath on Friday and Saturday and let your kids heal and relax a little bit, but to go from our offense playing 97 snaps against Lamar and then turn it around on Sunday and for all intents and purposes have a Tuesday practice in terms of preparing for a game week - I understand why they do it. The ratings are off the charts when you play these Thursday night games, and we're in the entertainment business, but we play four of these. We have three Thursday night games and Friday night game, so in a 12-game schedule, a third of our games are not on a Saturday. That takes its toll on players' bodies. We're playing four games in 20 days. You do the match. That's a lot of pounding on a young man's body in a short amount of time."
Houston (2-0) is coming off a 42-0 win over Lamar that was delayed 3 ½ hours by lightning and torrential rain that was beneficial from the aspect that quarterback and Heisman Trophy-candidate Greg Ward Jr. was able to use the down time to get extra treatment on his banged-up shoulder. He ended up not playing against Lamar.
"He was out in pads (Sunday) night and practiced," Herman said on Monday during his weekly media session. "He's still sore, but the soreness is all muscular, so we're doing everything we can, from massages to dry needling, to make sure that the muscles that surround the shoulder are ready to go."
Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville is -- and isn't -- looking forward to seeing Ward.
"We saw him play quarterback for the first time four years ago, so we've seen him every year," Tuberville said Monday on the AAC weekly coaches teleconference. "He makes plays. Obviously, we're going to have to play much better than we have been playing to contain a quarterback like Greg Ward."
The Bearcats are scheduled to play three non-Saturday games, including the last two Fridays of the regular season. They are coming off a 38-20 win at Purdue - the first for the program at a Big Ten site in 59 years - in which they build up a 31-7 lead and fought off a Boilermaker comeback that cut the lead to 31-21 halfway through the fourth quarter. Cincinnati (2-0) had five interceptions in the game, three by senior safety Mike Tyson.
Houston, the first top 10 team to visit 40,000-seat Nippert Stadium since then-fifth-ranked West Virginia played there on Nov. 17, 2007, holds a 14-10 advantage in the all-time series against Cincinnati, but the Bearcats have won four of the last five games. The Cougars prevailed, 33-30, last season - a typically close outcome. The last three games between the two teams have been decided by a combined 18 points.
"As good as they were last year, they've improved on both sides of the ball," said Herman, for whom the trip will be somewhat of a homecoming, since he's a Cincinnati native who still has family in the area. "Their defensive line and their defensive tackles seem to be in a lot better shape. They're moving around better. Their two safeties are really good players hat make a ton of tackles for them. They seem to be a little more sound in what they're doing. They're in the right places at the right time on defense.
"On offense, the quarterback (sophomore Hayden Moore) is playing at an extremely high level. He's a really good player behind a massive offensive line. They're running the ball a little bit better than they have in years past. It will be a challenge."