Many words were said by Houston Cougar head coach Kevin Sumlin and his players at yesterday's media luncheon. But of those many words, none captured the spirit of Saturday's loss to UTEP better than those of cornerback Brandon Brinkley: "I felt embarrassed."
Quarterback Case Keenum talked of a bad taste left in his mouth. Linebacker Marcus McGraw spoke of the team not stepping up its game and doing the job. But none said it better than Brinkley, who continued that "as a defensive player, to give up 58 points and 41 points in a half, it's hard. If our offense can put up 40 points, [actually 41] we should be able to win."
The UTEP game is over, and Saturday, the 3-1 (0-1 in conference play) Cougars head to Starkville, Mississippi to take on the 2-3 Mississippi State Bulldogs of the SEC. But before the Cougars can prepare for the Bulldogs, there are a still a few items from the UTEP game that must be handled.
"Obviously," Sumlin said, "last week was a disappointing loss. Anytime you lose a game that way, I would regard it as a team loss. There are a lot of things that happen in a game like that. It's not one single situation or play. We had a chance starting the game being up 10-0. We had a chance to take control of the football game but did not. We let them hang around the entire first half and got the crowd back into it. We came out the second half and didn't stop the run, and we didn't move the ball on offense. We turned the ball over twice, and that's the result you get, particularly on the road, when you don't score. In a nutshell, that's what happened Saturday.
"Yesterday, we reviewed the tape, looked at it, made some corrections, talked with the players about it and began our work on Mississippi State."
Despite their record, the Bulldogs pose a challenge to the Cougars, primarily because of their physical running game. And as anyone who witnessed the UTEP game, the Cougars tend to have problems with even non-bruising running games.
"They have a really good running back," Sumlin said. "Anthony Dixon. Here's a guy that's 235 pounds and averaging 106 yards a game while playing against some pretty good defense this year. He's the all-time leading runner for the amount of carries in the history of Mississippi State, carrying the ball 739 times. That mean's he's been hit and run into a lot of people. He's a good back, one that we probably won't see in this league. He's just a big, powerful guy."
Dixon has gained 427 yards and scored seven touchdowns on 86 carries in just four games this season -- he missed one game because of a suspension. That's an average of five yards per carry.
And the defenses of Auburn and LSU, two of the four teams that Dixon and Mississippi State have faced, are better than just about any that a Conference USA team can toss out, including the Cougars.
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"You can't worry about what other people think about us," McGraw says. "People are going to have their opinions. We know what we're capable of doing, and we need to go out and do that every week."
The Cougar offense will probably find a way to score points on the Bulldogs. But if the Cougars really want to do something about the way that people think of them, then the defense better play to their capabilities and find some way to shut down Dixon and the Bulldogs.
If not, come this time next week, the Cougars face the real chance of being in the midst of a two-game losing streak.
MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: As a reminder, Saturday's game at Mississippi State is set for 11:30 a.m. and it will be televised on ESPN U....Next week's game will be in New Orleans as the Cougars take on Tulane. And that game, too, will be televised, with kickoff set for 2:30 p.m. on CBS College Sports. The next Cougar home game will October 24 when they take on Conference USA rival SMU....How does Keenum handle this week's game while dealing with the UTEP game? "You look at the hangover effects as the previous two weeks," he says. "You have to forget about the last game whether it is good or bad. I've heard all good quarterbacks have amnesia -- they forget about the last play, the last game and just move on to the next."