The sixth-ranked Houston Cougars were determined to take care of business this year after Connecticut detailed their perfect season a year ago.
Greg Ward Jr. made sure they did just that.
Ward Jr. threw for a career-high 389 yards and accounted for five touchdowns in just more than three quarters to help Houston beat Connecticut 42-14 on Thursday night.
Houston's only blemish last season came in the 20-17 loss to the Huskies when they were 10-0.
"We never use the word revenge," coach Tom Herman said. "The word we used was atonement — to make a wrong a right. We had a chance to atone for the transgressions of last year's team."
Ward didn't start that game because of an ankle injury, and there was a scary moment early in the second quarter when he took a hard hit in the midsection by Junior Joseph on a flea-flicker and had to leave the game.
But he missed just one play before returning and showed no ill effects from the blow, leading the Cougars (5-0, 2-0 American) on three more touchdown drives in the half to leave Houston up 28-7 at halftime.
Herman didn't think missing last year's game against UConn made this one more important to Ward.
"I think Ward's got a chip on his shoulder every week, I don't know that it was any bigger this week," Herman said. "I think the whole team had a juice and a pep in their step knowing what this opponent did to last year's team and they wanted to make sure it didn't happen again."
Ward and Joseph got in each other's faces after another hit by the linebacker on a touchdown throw by Ward later in the second quarter, and it earned Joseph an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Joseph said the run-in was "totally my fault" before raving about the quarterback.
"He's probably the best player I played against," Joseph said. "He's very electric. That's why he's in the race for the Heisman. Just a great player."
Ward had touchdown runs of 30 and 10 yards and threw scoring passes of 3, 15 and 4 yards. He was replaced by Kyle Postma with 12 minutes remaining.
Ward doesn't like talking about himself and deflected questions about his big game.
"The stats, I don't think about that at all," he said. "The only stat that I worry about is win-loss."
Noel Thomas had a career-high 135 yards receiving and a touchdown for Connecticut (2-3, 0-2), and Bryant Shirreffs threw for 239 yards and ran for a TD.
"Losing is terrible," Bob Diaco said. "We obviously wanted to finish phase one of our season better than 2-3. A play here and a play there, and that would have been the case."