It's the same story that's been written six other times about the Cougars this season. Team goes on the road. Struggles in the first half. Explodes in the third quarter. Buries opposition in the fourth quarter.
It's the same story, but this time it's different. This time the Cougars were visiting Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane (8-4, 7-1 in conference) was the one team left standing between the Cougars and the C-USA title game. A loss to Tulsa would mean no conference title, no BCS Bowl. And Tulsa was a good football team, i.e., not Tulane or UAB or North Texas. Tulsa was a team that had faced nationally ranked competition this season. Tulsa was a team that could put points on the boards. It was a team with a legitimate defense. It was a team that could actually defeat the Cougars.
So the Cougars fell behind 7-0 and were up only 13-10 at the half. With 12:02 left in the third quarter, the Cougars appeared to have been stopped once again, facing a fourth-and-10 at the Tulsa 33. Most teams would have punted. The Cougars aren't most teams. Case Keenum saw something. Receiver Patrick Edwards saw something. The Cougar coaching staff saw something.
They saw an opening. An opening threaded with a perfect pass from Case Keenum, a great catch then a speed burst by Patrick Edwards. Like that it was 20-10 Cougars and it was suddenly clear that the Cougars were going to be 12-0 (8-0 in conference) on the season. Say hello to the C-USA title game and proceed just a touch further with the BCS Bowl preparations as the Cougars soared to the 48-16 win.
The offense numbers look the same as usual. Keenum finished 33-for-46 for 457 yards and five touchdowns. Edwards pulled in eight of those passes for 181 yards and four TDs. Receivers Tyron Carrier (nine for 68 yards) and Justin Johnson (seven for 106 yards and a TD) shared in the wealth.
But the stars of the game were on the defense end, which is something that wouldn't have been said earlier in the season. While the offense struggled in the first half, the defense came together and limited a high-scoring Tulsa offense to only 10 points, and only 16 points for the game. Quarterback G.J. Kinne was limited to only 176 passing yards on 38 attempts while the Tulsa offense netted only 161 yards from the ground game.
This was a Tulsa offense that had been averaging 40.5 points per game this season. That had put up 50-plus points twice. An offense that was supposed to be able to match that of the Cougars. And yet the much-maligned defense (and I've been a big offender) turned the awesome Golden Hurricane offense into a soft summer drizzle.
With the win the Cougars continued to march up the polls. They're number seven in the AP poll, number six in the USA Today/Coaches Poll, and number six in the BCS with the promise of a BCS Bowl spot.
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But this is major college football and the stupidity of the BCS: While Alabama, a team that couldn't even win its division, much less its conference, is pretty much inked into the BCS title game, the Cougars are facing the prospect of the Ticket City Bowl if they lose to Southern Miss on Saturday. One loss and Alabama plays for the title. One loss and the Cougars face the indignity of playing against a nonentity in a game that even Cougar fans might not be able to bring themselves to watch. Even worse, should UCLA win on Friday night, they're going to the Rose Bowl with a 7-6 record. But alas, such is life when you're a football team stuck in Conference USA.
The Rice Owls would have been happy to take the hike up to Dallas for the Ticket City Bowl. They'd be happy to make any bowl game. Instead, after a 27-24 loss to SMU on Saturday, the Owls finished at 4-8 for the second straight year, losing their 12th straight road game. Rice coach David Bailiff assures all that the team is headed in the right direction (and the Houston Chronicle reports that Bailiff will return for 2012 despite three straight losing seasons).
Rice's season is done. But the Cougars have two games still to play. The C-USA title game against Southern Miss (10-2, 6-2 in conference) will be played Saturday at 11 a.m. at Robertson Stadium. Ticket information can be found here. The game will be televised on ABC (it appears, unfortunately, that Cougar/Golden Eagle fans are being punished by ABC since reports are that Craig James will be the ABC television analyst). And the Cougars' next game is all dependent on what happens Saturday.
MISCELLANEOUS UH/RICE NOTES: After starting the basketball season 3-0, including an upset of Arkansas in Little Rock, the Cougars have lost two straight games. Saturday's 81-80 loss to TCU was a heartbreaker in that the Cougars had battled back from an eight-point deficit with 1:26 remaining in the game to take the 80-79 lead with 6.8 seconds to play. But the Cougars' inability to grab defensive rebounds came back to bite them as TCU's J.R. Cadot missed his initial shot, grabbed the rebound and flipped it over his shoulder into the bucket as the clock expired for the win....Meanwhile, after winning their first four games, the Rice Owls basketball team has lost two straight over the weekend to Northern Iowa and Iowa State while playing in the South Padre Island Invitational....The Cougars host LSU on Tuesday and Texas A&M Corpus Christi on Saturday night. The Owls play at HBU on Wednesday and host St. Thomas on Saturday afternoon.