"Everything just slowed down. It was in slow motion," Houston Cougar running back Bryce Beall told Hair Balls yesterday. "I just told myself, whatever you do, do not drop this ball. When it got in there I just made sure I grabbed it and held on tight and took it to the ground."
The ball was a pass from the hand of teammate Case Keenum that was deflected in the air by a defender from Oklahoma State. It was fourth-and-goal for the Cougars, there was a little over six minutes left in the game, and the Cougars were losing. Then there was a football that was seemingly hanging in mid-air in the middle of the end zone, and the only person in a position to catch the ball was Beall.
"I just kept telling myself you've got a chance to make a play. Whatever you do, do not drop this ball."
And make the play Beall did, putting the Cougars up 38-35 over the heavily-favored Oklahoma State Cowboys. Moments later, Cougar cornerback Jamal Robinson intercepted a Zac Robinson pass and waltzed into the end zone, clinching for the Cougars a 45-35 win that would move them into the top 25 of the AP Football rankings for the first time since 1991.
But head coach Kevin Sumlin doesn't want to hear about the rankings, nor does he want to hear about expectations. Sumlin wants his team living in the now, concentrating only on those things that they can control.
"Football-wise, that's the way we do [living in the moment]," Sumlin said yesterday. "No matter what happens on that play, whether it's good, or whether it's bad, forget it and move on. Let the coaches deal with the big picture. You deal with what you need to do, right now, right then."
Sumlin further says that the team is only as good as its last game, and noted that the Cougars can play better football than what they've played so far this season.
"We can be better. And we can be worse, too. We can definitely be a better team," he said. "There's some things that we need to clean up and be consistent about....We're still a young team."
But whether the team could play better or not, Sumlin was happy about the win. "I thought it was a great team win," he said. "I couldn't have been happier, prouder of how our players played and responded in a hostile environment. I couldn't have been happier with how our coaches handled the situation from a game-plan standpoint. It takes everybody to go on the road and win a game like that. For us, for me, it's extremely gratifying. More than anything else I'm happy for our coaching staff, and I'm happy for our players to be able to go into a situation like that and win."
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But if you should see Sumlin or any of the players today, don't bother asking about the Oklahoma State game, because that game no longer exists. The only thing that matters now is the next game which is Texas Tech, at Robertson Stadium, on September 26.
As for the Red Raiders, Beall says that he and his teammates respect the team, but "we're not going to fear anybody."
And if the Cougars play Texas Tech like they played Oklahoma State, then it's probable that it will be the Cougars that are being feared by other teams.
MISCELLANEOUS COUGAR NOTES: The players of the week for the Cougars are Bryce Beall on offense, Phillip Steward on special teams, and the entire defense. And Jamal Robinson and Case Keenum were named Conference USA's Defensive and Offensive Players of the Week....Sumlin said it was a conscious decision on his part to squib-kick and play with a short field. He figured it would be better to have his defense handle the Oklahoma State offense than to risk their kick return game -- as it was, the Cougars still got burned on the Dez Bryant TD on the punt return, though Sumlin noted that, come next year, there will be a lot of professional teams getting burned by Bryant....Sumlin and the players were effusive in their praise of strength and conditioning coach Larry Jackson, who they credit with giving them the stamina to go strong late in the game and to play tired....And quarterback Keenum praised his offensive line for giving him the time to find his receivers. "I've got the most trust that you can have in those guys," he said. "I know that they're working hard and doing a great job communicating and getting on the right guys, and making the right points and right reads...to see them be successful like that is always a plus for me."