Case Keenum and the Favre Rules: Notes from UH Media Day

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The Cougars would like Case Keenum to be a bit more like Brett Favre this season.
It's safe to say that the 2010 football season didn't pan out the way the Houston Cougars imagined it would. That team, to be paced by senior QB Case Keenum, was poised to take UH football to the next level with talk of the summer being about how the squad could be a BCS-buster.

Then the season started. A season that saw Keenum suffer from a concussion during a game two victory over UTEP before seeing him lost for the season to an injured ACL in a game three loss to UCLA. So the season that started with hopes of the team running the table and going 12-0 finished with freshman QB David Piland being thrown into the fire as the team limped to a 5-7 record.

The 2011 Houston Cougar season kicks off over Labor Day weekend with an afternoon game at Robertson Stadium against UCLA. Last Friday, coach Kevin Sumlin and selected players met with the media to discuss the upcoming plans for making this season more like 2009 and less like 2010. And the primary path to prosperity for the team is simple: keeping sixth-year senior QB Case Keenum healthy.

Keenum's injuries last season came off of his attempted tackles after throwing interceptions. So if Sumlin has his way, his quarterback will just follow the path of Brett Favre.

"We told him last year," Sumlin said. "I don't know. I'm not much for practicing interceptions and walking off the field. I don't know what the hell else to tell you. I'm a positive guy. I don't like to put negative stuff in people's minds. But there's a lot to the Brett Favre theory, and it helped him, probably extended his career another 8-10 years by just throwing it and walking off."

Keenum thinks he is ready to return from the ACL, but insists he's going to have to do a better job of listening to what his body says so that he doesn't push back too hard, too fast. But he thinks the year off, for himself at least, was not a wasted season.

"Any time you get to spend another year under the system, under the coaches, watching the film, being with your teammates, I think you're going to get better," he said. "What I said from the beginning, I'm going to come back stronger. And that's in all aspects of my game. Not just physically, but to come back stronger mentally, and really to be a better person, not just a better football player."

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Keenum will have many of his key weapons from seasons past back for this season. The backfield is loaded with senior running back Bryce Beall -- who is on the Doak Walker Award watch list -- and running backs senior Michael Hayes and sophomore Charles Sims. The receiving corps is loaded with seniors, led by Tyron Carrier -- who has a reception in every game as a Cougar -- and Patrick Edwards, who has 1,000 receiving yards in each of his last two seasons.

Carrier thinks the team has learned from what happened last season, with the injuries to Keenum and his backup, Cotton Turner. Injuries from which the team seemed to never recover.

"I really feel like you learn from those experiences," Carrier said. "Now you don't take anything for granted because anything can happen. Who would've known that we could lose two of our top quarterbacks against UCLA in the same game? Nobody. I talked to the guys who play behind the starting receivers and tell them, we can go down anytime, and you have to be prepared to play at all aspects of the game. You never know what's going to happen, what situation we'll be in."

But the season will only be better for the Cougars if the defense finds a way to perform on the field and stop opposing teams from scoring. Sumlin admitted that the transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense was harder than he anticipated last season. But he thinks another year in the system for the returning players, as well as new incoming players, will make the team better.

And the first test of the improved defense and the rehabbing Case Keenum will come against the UCLA Bruins, a bit more of a major opening opponent than what the Cougars have faced in recent years. While Sumlin sees it as a major test for the team, he still views the game as the first of 12 big games for the team.

"I'm not much on the coach-speak stuff, but it's an important game because it's the first game. It's a big game," Sumlin said. "It has nothing to do with last year. Whether you win or lose a game the year before has nothing to do with the next year because there's different players on the field. Sometimes there's different coaches. Now to the fans it means a lot, okay? To the fans they'll carry grudges or resentment or anything like that. But as a coach, as we approach it, it's the most important game of the year because it's the first game of the year. Whether we win or lose that game, we've got 11 more. We're going to have to come back out the next week and play well again."

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The Cougars announced on Friday that they have sold 10,000 season tickets as opposed to 8,500 at this same time last year. The school aims to sell 15,000 season tickets before the season starts....The Cougars also stated that they expected the UCLA game to be a sellout.

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