Heading into tomorrow's game with the 4-3 SMU Mustangs, it needs to be pointed out that the 3-3 Houston Cougars have some issues that need to be addressed. Real issues like the leadership void on the field since Case Keenum's season-ending injury. And a defense that has problem making tackles.
Kevin Sumlin is well aware of those problems. The players are well aware of these problems. And they're trying to address these issues.
"Certainly there are guys on this team that have to be able to fill that [leadership] void. And we've talked about that before," Sumlin said on Tuesday. "No one guy is not going to do that. It's going to take the work of several people, a lot of people, to step in and fill the leadership void. That's something that, quite frankly, we're struggling with."
One of those players trying to step in and fill the void, at least offensively, is junior running back Bryce Beall. Beall tends to be a soft-spoken guy who lets his play speak for him. Through six games, Beall is the second-leading rusher in C-USA with 544 yards on 94 carries for an average of 5.8 yards a rush. But Beall knows he has to step up vocally now as well.
"I see myself doing that a little more now," he said. "We need a couple of guys to do that, to keep us going, to get us going."
The Cougars will need his leadership this week against the 4-2 Mustangs, the team directly in front of them in the C-USA West standings. The Mustangs are very similar to the Coogs in that they run what is primarily seen as a pass-first offense, but like the Cougars this season, the Ponies have been running the ball, led by Zach Line who leads the conference with 635 yards in seven games while averaging 6.6 yards a rush.
"I think [SMU's] identity is who they are," Sumlin said. "With [head coach] June [Jones] and really, the run-and-shoot philosophy, but a little bit like us. I think it surprises people that the two leading rushers in the league are on our two teams."
SMU also offers up a bit of an object lesson for the Cougars, one of which the Cougars are aware. Because it was just last year, in the game between SMU and Houston, that the Cougars knocked out SMU's top two QBs and they had to go with an unknown quantity in freshman Kyle Padron. Padron led SMU to a 4-1 regular season finish last year, then quarterbacked them to a victory in the Hawaii Bowl. And in the last three games this season, Padron has thrown for over a thousand yards.
"We're going to rally behind [freshman QB David Piland] like that, too," Beall said. "He's capable of doing that, too. He's had a great two games for us....we can do the same thing. In the second half, I saw us getting closer, closer, hitting our stride. And I really believe that if we keep working and we take care of the little things, and like that, we're going to get that point where we're going to keep rolling."
The Cougar offense did appear to start hitting its stride in that second half against Rice. The line started making blocks. The receivers held onto the football. And for the most part, the Cougar defense stepped up in that second half, stopping the Rice offense on every drive but one.
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But that one second-half drive was all that Rice needed to win the game. Unfortunately for the Cougars this season, there have been way too many of those type drives against the defense. And it's a problem that Sumlin, much like his counterpart at Rice, David Bailiff, attributes to poor execution and a lack of fundamentals during the game.
"The fundamentals, those things, we work on, are being taught," Sumlin said. "I know sometimes, like a lot of things, it doesn't look like it. But those things are being taught, and execution is something different."
The Cougars are also clear about one other thing: David Piland is not one of their problems. So when it comes to SMU tomorrow, the Cougars are not going to win or lose because of Piland; the outcome is going to depend on someone filling that leadership void, and the defense executing the fundamentals.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Saturday's game in Dallas kicks off at 2:30 p.m. and can be heard on 790. The game will also be televised on CBS College Sports....One of the problems the Cougar receivers have had this season is the number of QBs they've gone through because each QB is a bit different when it comes to throwing the ball. But junior Justin Johnson, who has made the transition from running back to receiver this season, says that while each is a bit different, ultimately they all throw a good ball. On Piland, Johnson has the utmost faith: "I believe David is doing a great job, especially as a freshman. He's so poised. Last week he was standing in, taking hits, delivering the ball. From my perspective, as a freshman, he's doing a great job."...Bryce Beall is ranked 14th nationally in scoring with 10.0 points per game.