"I still don't think we've played our best football yet," Houston Cougars head coach Kevin Sumlin said Saturday night. "To be 6-1,and as a coach, to think that you haven't played your best football yet is pretty encouraging."
Sumlin's statements came not long after Houston's 38-15 defeat of SMU at Robertson Stadium. And looking at the score, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Cougars completely dominated the football game all night. But were it not for some bad officiating that worked in the Cougars' favor, the team could have found itself on the losing end of the score as the fourth quarter rolled around.
But with the help of the officiating and an opportunistic defense that forced three turnovers -- one at the SMU one-yard line which was turned into a UH touchdown and one at the UH two-yard line which prevented a sure SMU touchdown -- the Cougars were able to grind out a businesslike win that featured very little of the glitz that has become associated with the Cougar offense.
The vaunted offense was outgained by SMU (396 total yards versus 397), and quarterback Case Keenum was only 25 for 36 for 233 yards and one touchdown while being sacked four times. But the running game kicked into high gear as freshman Charles Sims gained 105 yards and 2 TDs on 15 carries and sophomore Bryce Beall ran for 61 yards and a touchdown on 12 rushing attempts.
"They were doing a good job of keeping us from throwing the ball," Keenum said in response. "They've got a really good secondary. They were doing a good job...which gave us the run. We've got a couple of really talented running backs that I really don't mind handing the ball off to at any time. The offensive line did a great job of blocking. You've got to take what the defense gives you....we had the run for the majority part of the night."
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Then there was Tyron Carrier who fielded the kick to start the second half at the six yard line and shot down the left sideline 94 yards to put UH up 31-3. SMU made an attempt to get back into the game, scoring 12 fourth-quarter points to make the score 31-15 before UH closed out.
"We capitalized on some turnovers and mistakes early and got control of the game," Sumlin said as the key to the victory. The Cougars are now 6-1 on the season, and they're 2-1 in conference play. They return to action Saturday at noon when they take on Southern Mississippi at noon.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES: With the win, the Cougars are now ranked 15 in the AP, 16 in the Coaches poll, and 18 in the BCS standings. The Cougars ability to move up further in the rankings this season is going to be hampered by the fact they're playing all Conference USA games from here on out, which will hurt the strength of schedule. Also hurting the strength of schedule will be incidents like Saturday night where Texas Tech -- one of the Coogs' spotlight wins -- got its ass kicked by the Aggies....The officiating, especially when it came to the replay review, was an embarrassment to C-USA. The first replay resulted when SMU QB Bo Levi Mitchell appeared to fumble at his one-yard line. The ball was given to the Cougars. The play was reviewed. The official then came out and ruled that the call stood and that it was first down for SMU, not noting that it would actually be third down for SMU if there was no fumble. Then before the official could walk away, he got back on the headset, then spoke to the crowd and said that the play was actually overruled and that it was UH ball at the one. And this was only the first such incident on the night. There were several other iffy replay calls, interference/non-interference calls on the night.
Tyron Carrier's 94-yard kickoff return was his career best. It's tied for eighth-best in school history. Coach Sumlin said after the game that it's still amazing to watch Carrier when he gets the chance to go full-speed down the sideline. And Keenum extended his school record consecutive-game TD-pass streak to 23....The announced attendance was 26,889, a little over five thousand short of a sell-out. Cougar fans should be embarrassed that they can't sell out a 32,000-seat stadium to watch the country's 17th-ranked team play. The opposition shouldn't matter. And at kickoff, the stadium wasn't even half-full. Yet amazingly, the players and coaches still spoke very highly of the great crowd and the great fans. The fans have another chance to redeem themselves on Saturday.