Check out our slideshow of last night's rainy Bayou Bucket game.
Houston's Tyron Carrier took the opening kickoff 100 yards for the touchdown to quickly put the Cougars up 7-0. Then the rain hit and the Rice Owls came out in the wildcat offense, with Turner Petersen and Tyler Smith running the ball up the middle of the UH offense. Rice was up 17-7 by the time rain stopped, and they appeared to be up by that score when the first quarter ended.
But a pass interference penalty was called on Rice, giving the Cougars one last play in the first quarter. And Case Keenum located Patrick Edwards speeding away from Rice's Bryce Callahan and the score was 17-14 Rice. Rice got one more field goal to lead 20-14. But by the time the half rolled around, the Cougars were up 38-20 and the question wasn't whether the Cougars would hold on to win the game. The question was just how badly the Coogs would kick Rice's ass.
The answer was bad, very badly. In as the Cougars had a record-breaking night. Keenum set the NCAA record for career TD passes on Houston's first possession of the third quarter. Carrier's opening kickoff return tied the NCAA record for TDs on kickoff returns, and Carrier set the team's career record for receptions. Edwards set his career-high with five TD receptions, and he tied the UH record for career-touchdown receptions of 34 (tied Elmo Wright). Keenum set his career record with nine TDs in a game (tying David Klingler for second place). And that was all before the fourth quarter got under way, with the Cougars up 66-34 in a game they would win 73-34.
By the time the game ended, Keenum and Edwards had connected five times for touchdowns. Keenum finished 24-for-37 with 534 yards and nine touchdowns. Patrick Edwards finished with seven receptions for 318 yards and five touchdowns. Those five TD receptions set a C-USA record. And by the time Keenum and Edwards exited the game midway through the fourth quarter, one wouldn't be blamed for wondering if there was a mercy rule for NCAA football.
"That was fun," Keenum said. "That was a blast. That's probably the most fun I've ever had playing football."
And Carrier said he's been waiting this whole season for the kickoff return record, then credited the rest of his special teams' crew for setting the play up so that he wasn't even touched on the return, finishing up something that's been close for several games.
"It's been a hard time, actually," Carrier said of tying the kick return record. "We've been that close for the past four weeks in a row...one block away."
The Cougars inflicted a lot of the damage by taking advantage of the Owls' inability to cover any of the UH receivers, especially Edwards. But the Owls offense, and by extension, the Rice coaching staff, deserve a lot of the blame for the carnage. The Cougars were obviously not prepared for the wildcat formation the Owls were running, and were unable to stop a Rice offense running plays at a quick, efficient tempo that found QB/RB Turner Petersen and running back Tyler Smith slashing and dicing the UH defense. But then Rice, for some unknown reason, went back to their conventional offense and accomplished absolutely nothing as the Cougars caught up and took control of the game.
"We were going up against a good offensive football team, led by a senior quarterback, and they were just able to make plays every time they had to, and we couldn't make plays that we needed to stop them," Bailiff said. "We had some opportunities, but didn't get it done."
"I thought our offensive game plan was good," Bailiff continued later. "But we've just got to continue working on our execution."
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And execution might be the best word to describe what Houston did to Rice. The Cougars adjusted defensively to what Rice was doing, whether running the wildcat or alternating between Petersen, Taylor McHargue and Nick Fanuzzi at quarterback, and started tossing around the Owls the way a cat does a dead bird. And the UH offense, which was very ineffective the first few times it touched the ball, just took off and never, ever, looked back.
"The rain started coming down," Sumlin said. "It came down pretty hard. It was really raining. Balls were flopping around everywhere. We turned the ball over twice in the red zone. They scored on one. We set them up. We gave them 14 points. Really, really, in the first half, the defense gave two field goals after that. We were able to hit our stride after the rain calmed down....We hung in there. We took a good punch early. Fought through some of our own mistakes. The defense rose up early in the first half and did a decent job and kept points off of the board, and we were able to score." The Cougars improved their record to 8-0 (4-0 in conference), and their path toward complete and utter domination of the C-USA and a trip to the Liberty Bowl is all clear with very few obstacles -- well, they do still have SMU and Tulsa left, but if the Cougars keep playing like they've played the last three games, there's not a team in this conference that will be able to stop them. The Owls are now 2-6 (1-4 in conference), and they're probably just thankful at the moment that Tulane is still left on their schedule so that they'll get at least one more win for the season.
The Cougars clearly outclassed Rice, and on a night that saw the UH Board of Regents give UH President Renu Khator the necessary and needed permissions to start negotiating new conference affiliations, one has to wonder just how much longer the Bayou Bucket will continue to be played. Because Houston was in a completely different league than Rice last night, and even if Rice hadn't gone into self-destruct mode by abandoning an offensive plan that had the Cougars backpedaling, with the game the Cougars played, the Owls still would have been as outclassed as the Houston Astros on most any night in the season just ended.
Both teams get some extra time off. The Cougars' next game will be a week from Saturday at UAB while Rice will host UTEP. The Cougars will be continuing their quest for perfection. The Owls will be seeking to regain their self-respect.