Early last week, Houston Cougars junior running back Bryce Beall said that it was up to him and the other playmakers to step up in the absence of injured QB Case Keenum and to ease the burden on freshman quarterback Terrance Broadway. And in the first half Saturday, Beall did just that.
Beall touched the football 19 times in that first half. He rushed for 103 yards, an average of 5.4 yards a rush. He scored three times. And at the end of the half, the Houston Cougars were leading the Tulane Green Wave 28-14 and they appeared to be well on their way to a seemingly easy victory. Alas, the Houston Cougars don't know how to make things easy.
Beall touched the football just five more times in the game. The Cougar offense, which was doing so much so right in the first half, started doing so much so wrong in the second. The defense, which had pretty much shut down Tulane in the first half -- Tulane's points came off of a Broadway fumble and a Broadway interception which put Tulane in good field position -- went into coast setting and allowed Tulane to get back into a football game they should have been well out of.
The Cougar special teams, which had indeed been special, let down for one brief play in the fourth quarter, allowing Richie Leone's 61-yard punt from deep in his end zone to be returned to the Cougar 30-yard line. And with 7:45 remaining in the game, and the Cougars up only 28-23, it looked for all of the world as if the Cougars were going to find a way to lose the football game.
Then Tulane got hit with a facemask penalty. Then they lost seven yards on a screen pass. Then Tulane QB Kevin Moore, one of Tulane's three QBs on the day, was sacked for an eight-yard loss. Then came a delay-of-game penalty. And just like that, Tulane was facing a third and 46 from their 34-yard line.
Enter UH defensive back Loyce Means, who stepped in front of a Moore pass for the interception and returned the ball to the Tulane 37. Then the Cougars rediscovered the existence of Beall who, on the fifth play of that drive, took a pitch from Broadway and went up the field 25 yards, making some nice moves in the process, before entering the end zone and putting the Cougars up 35-23.
"In order to win games like that," head coach Kevin Sumlin said, "when you come off of a situation this week, as a coach, you're encouraged because that's kind of what you talked about all week, and different people in different areas of our football team accepted that challenge and really created for us to get the win."
The Cougar defense, and Means, stepped up to the challenge the next time Tulane touched the football. Moore attempted a crossing pass which Means got in front of, and he took the ball back 42 yards to put the Cougars up 42-23 with just under three minutes remaining, allowing the Cougars to go 3-1 (2-0 in C-USA play) on the season. The win, with the team going into the bye week, also gives the Cougars a confidence-builder as they go into two weeks of retrenching and rebuilding an offense that had been geared around Keenum.
"The bye week couldn't come at a better time for us," Sumlin said. "It's probably the first break we've gotten in the past couple of weeks, to be honest with you. As a scheduling break...We're two-and-oh in our league, we've got a bye week to get better, then we come back with a home game. To be honest with you, it's the first time this year, I know we've only been out a couple of times, to get through some adversity and win really, really is what makes or builds confidence."
Sumlin admitted after the game that the Cougars offensive playbook had been cut back, way back, and that after Tulane made some halftime adjustments, the Cougars were even more limited in what they could do offensively. But the Cougars made adjustments, the defense stepped up when the game was on the line, and Beall and Means did what needed to be done.
Beall said the key to the win was the way the team started the game. But though he was happy with the win, he said the team still had lots on which they needed to work.
"It helped up a lot," he said of the team bursting out to the 21-0 lead. "That's what we wanted to do...it was just good for us to start fast and get this thing going. We have to do that every week. We've got to start fast. We've just got to do a better job of finishing. Us leaders on the team, we have to step and make plays for them. I keep stressing that. We've got to play hard and take our game to another level."
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Sumlin called it a team win, one in which everybody on the team needed to step up and he thought that, ultimately, it was for the best that the team struggled and didn't run away with the game.
"Winning games by larger amounts of points or losing games by a couple of touchdowns when you're not in it at the end, really doesn't create the kind of character that you need," Sumlin said. "Now as a coach you love to win a game by a lot, but to be in that situation, and see how people responded, particularly our kicking game and our defense when we had to, had to have something done by those two groups, when they saw us struggling on offense, I think that says volumes for who we are right now. I couldn't be prouder of how they responded in that situation."
In the end, the Cougars responded and now they get a week off before hosting Mississippi State.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The attendance for the game was supposedly 32,007, but any person looking out at the stands during the game, particularly in the end zones, has to figure that count was actually based on counting all of the empty seats throughout the stadium. It's going to be interesting to find out what excuses the so-called Cougar faithful come up with for the pitiful attendance. I'm sure they'll go with the standard wimpy Houston "it was hot" excuse, but it's always been amazing how, throughout all of the other hot and humid Southern locales where sports are played, people are able to attend games in the heat -- for instance, St. Louis Cardinal baseball fans or most SEC football games, but in Houston, we demand perfect, ideal conditions or nothing....Beall's four TDs were a career-high. This was his second 100-plus rushing yard game of the season, and the eighth such game of his career....UH kicker Matt Hogan missed his only field goal attempt on Saturday. That was the first miss of his career, and the 16 straight he had made before the miss are a UH record for consecutive field goals....UH punter Richie Leone averaged 50.5 yards on four punts with a long of 63 -- two of the punts were downed inside the 20.