In Which the Cougars Deliver a Very Special Message
Here's a little hint for the Marshall Thundering Herd. If you're going to talk trash, make sure you can back it up. Like last week, when the Marshall defense kept talking about its intentions to knock Houston Cougars QB Case Keenum out of the game. And not because of ineffectiveness, but because they were going to injure him. Deliberately injure him. They wanted Cotton Turner to play in the football game.
That was the plan. That was the path to victory for Marshall. And Marshall got its wish. Cotton Turner played most of the fourth quarter on Saturday night. Of course, by the time Turner entered the game, the Cougars were up 56-21 and head coach Kevin Sumlin sent in Turner to finish up the game the Cougars (7-0) would win 63-28.
"They said they wanted to see our second quarterback," Sumlin said after the game. "And they did."
If there's any team in Conference USA entitled to talk trash, it's the Houston Cougars. And if there's any player who is entitled to talk trash, it's Keenum. He finished the night 24-for-28 with six touchdowns while throwing for 376 yards. He operated the UH offense at a gear that has not been seen in several seasons. Whatever he wanted to do, he could do. Whatever running backs Charles Sims and Michael Hayes wanted to do, they could do. The receivers were open, making catches, breaking long runs, and leveling blocks downfield for the running backs. And despite Keenum and Turner dropping back to pass 37 times, the offensive line gave up zero sacks.
"It's a good spot to be in, and that's what we're trying to get to every game," Keenum said on the offense's zone of perfection. "We practice at that level. Try to get in a groove. Really just try to get things rolling, get in that groove, and stay in that groove for as long as possible. I thought we did a good job of keeping in the groove."
Keenum started the day connecting on seven straight passes. Then he had two incompletions before finishing the first half with 12 more straight completions. Sims averaged 10.7 yards a rush. Hayes averaged 4.0 yards. Patrick Edwards caught seven passes for 109 yards. Hayes caught two touchdown passes. The offense was a thing of wonder. But of all the stats, the most impressive stat was this: Despite scoring 56 points on offense, the Cougars possessed the ball for only 17:45 on the night (the other TD came on an interception return by linebacker Derrick Mathews in the third quarter).
Yes, that's right. The Cougar offense was only on the field for 17:45 of a 60-minute game. It doesn't get much better, more efficient, more awe-inspiring than that. So yes, Thundering Herd (3-5), if your defense is going to talk trash, if you're going to threaten to take out the opposing quarterback, you better follow through.
"We were pretty aware," Keenum said of the Marshall pre-game statements. "Our coaches had done a pretty good job of making us aware of that. It was good motivation for us."
The Cougars return to action on Thursday night when they take on Rice (2-5) at Robertson Stadium in the battle for the Bayou Bucket. And if Thursday's game is anything like Saturday's, for either Houston or Rice, then the Cougars will win this game easily.
The final score of the Rice/Tulsa game at Rice Stadium on Saturday night was 38-20 with Tulsa (4-3) getting the victory. The win was made easier by Rice's continued, season-long offensive struggles. The offensive struggles this time consisted of QB Taylor McHargue throwing interceptions on his first two passes of the game, then fumbling the ball on the team's third possession. The Golden Hurricane capitalized on these miscues and was up 17-0 with 4:37 remaining in the first quarter.
Rice head coach David Bailiff sent Nick Fanuzzi in to relieve McHargue, who suffered a concussion against Marshall in the previous game, and the offense did settle down a bit. The Owl defense was able to keep Tulsa in check for most of the remainder of the night, and, miraculously, with 5:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Owls scored a touchdown to make the score 31-20. But the Owls elected not to attempt the on-side kick and the exhausted defense surrendered one more touchdown.
"Yes, a lot of thought," Bailiff said when asked if the team considered going for the on-side kick. "They actually -- we had one called, and then we just audibled out of it. We thought we could get a three-and-out. It wasn't the look we were looking for."
It's a short week for both teams, and with the skill and awesomeness with which the Cougar offense has been operating these past several games, the Coogs should be looking at an easy win and the 8-0 record which should send them further soaring up the rankings and the BCS standings. The Owls meanwhile are hoping to work the short week to advantage to erase the bad memories of the Tulsa game while building on the good work of Fanuzzi and the defense.
"I think in this case, you want as much preparation as you can," Fanuzzi said. "But I think it will be good because we can get right to work right away, and we can just clear out the bad thoughts of this game and we can just focus on Houston."
And the Owls might want to take a little advice from Marshall. Don't trash talk the Cougars because you won't like the results if you do. Though truthfully, the Owls probably won't like the result no matter what. Especially if the Cougars play anything like they did on Saturday night.
MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: For those keeping track, Case Keenum is now the NCAA's record holder for career total offensive yards. He's also the second quarterback in FBS history to pass for 16,000-plus offensive yards, trailing only Tommy Chang, and he is now four TD passes behind Graham Harrell for the NCAA career TD record....Thursday's Houston/Rice game will be televised on Fox Sports Net.