As the Cougars trotted off of the field after the first half on Saturday night, the question wasn't whether the Cougars would be in need of another second half comeback. That wasn't the question because the Cougars were up 35-0 over a clearly outclassed Georgia State squad.
The question going around the stadium was whether the Cougars would risk an injury to quarterback Case Keenum and send him out to play football in the second half or put in his backup, Cotton Turner. And the answer was yes, they did send him out to play. Fortunately, despite tempting the fates by sending him wide on a keeper and also seeing him sacked, the Cougars and Keenum survived most of the third period without injury and pulled him from the game with 4:24 left in the second half with the Cougars up 42-0.
The next question would be whether the Robertson Stadium crowd of 32,005 (some disguised as empty seats) would stick around for all of the Cotton Turner-at-quarterback-experience. But after the Cougars went up 49-0 with 1:29 left in the third, the crowd quickly began filing out of the stadium. And as the fourth quarter came into being, the only questions were how many points would the Cougars end up putting on the board, and would Georgia State find a way to score or would their offense end up being as impotent as Astros hitters facing Roy Halladay?
This was a much-needed game for the Cougars. Not only did they defeat the Georgia State Panthers to get the win 56-0 -- their first shutout since 1999 -- and go to 4-0 on the season, but they got an easy win, a laugher, something they haven't seen much of this season. They got to get the starters out of the game at the same time Keenum came out, and they got to give the scrubs some much-needed real-life game action.
"We were able to get some good work with our starting unit, and then get our backups with some meaningful time, not just mop-up time," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "I know that people talked -- we wanted to get Cotton in and run our offense, not just have him out there handing the ball off."
Keenum finished the game by going 29-of-34 for 415 yards and two touchdown passes, both to Justin Johnson. Keenum also moved into third place on the all-time NCAA passing yards list, going past Ty Detmer. Bryce Beall rushed seven times for 64 yards and two touchdowns, and Michael Hayes rushed nine times for 58 yards and a TD.
To say the Cougars easily controlled this game would be to underestimate just how much Houston dominated the game. The Cougars scored on two of their first three possessions, going 52 yards on each scoring drive, both drives taking six plays, with the first taking 1:51 off the clock while the second took all of 1:31 off of the clock. The score was 21-0 after the first quarter, and after that, there wasn't really much worth hanging around for and watching.
The defense looked the best they have all season, which was to be expected seeing as how Georgia State is just a FCS school playing its second season. The offense had the occasional problem with getting into a rhythm, as has come to be expected this season, but Keenum would usually find one of his receivers for a long gain, or Michael Hayes would break off a run and things would return to normal.
"I thought that, our goal was to come out and improve and to really gain some confidence [on defense] this week," Sumlin said. "I've seen us get better. I know a lot of people don't think so, statistically. The last two weeks on the road, our offense has put our defense in some bad positions. They were really tired [against Louisiana Tech] in the second quarter."
The Cougars now head into Conference USA play, traveling to El Paso to face UTEP on Thursday night, in the best position that any fan could ask. They made it through their non-conference schedule with no screw-ups, no major injuries and just a slight blip to Louisiana Tech that found them having to come back from a 34-7 third-quarter deficit for the last minute 35-34 win.
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"You couldn't really ask for anything better," Keenum said of starting conference play with a 4-0 record. "The really good thing is, I think we've got a lot of good, better football to be played. We can get better. And that's really important to us."
Their conference schedule isn't much to speak of, seeing as how they don't face one of the major C-USA West teams until SMU and Tulsa in the last weeks of the season. So the Coogs are all set to run the table and get that perfect season, setting things up to host the C-USA title game in December for the chance at the Liberty Bowl.
AND IN RICE OWLS NEWS:
The Rice Owls had the unenviable duty of facing the Baylor Bears this weekend. The Owls were down 21-0 after the first quarter. They were able to make it 35-17 at the half. But then Robert Griffin III woke up and the Bears (3-0) went on for the easy 56-31 win. The Owls (1-2) now head into conference play with a tough match-up on Saturday when they travel to Hattiesburg to face Southern Miss (3-1).