The UTEP Miners lost to the Texas Longhorns 64-7 last weekend. The Miners are 1-3 on the season. They are the next opponent for the Houston Cougars.
Are the Miners a cause of concern for the Cougars?
"Last year," Kevin Sumlin said yesterday, UTEP was "0-3 and then their first league game was UCF and they beat them 58-13. So who knows what going to happen. They're tough at home [and] it's their homecoming, it's our first league game and, like he said, as far as they're concerned their record is 0-0 because now it's conference play."
The fact that the Cougars are 3-0 and ranked number 12 in the country doesn't enter into Sumlin's thinking. The fact that the Cougars struggled against UTEP last year does enter into Sumlin's thinking, saying "We have to be prepared to play. We were down 28-9 in the third quarter last year and 28-16 to start the fourth quarter. That's enough to get our attention this week for this game."
But this isn't just a UTEP thing. Sumlin has preached this mindset the entire season. The game just played no longer exists. The biggest win isn't the game just won, it's the next game to be played.
Before the season, the most important game was the Northwestern State opener. Then it was Oklahoma State. Then Texas Tech. Now UTEP. And no matter what happens on Saturday against UTEP, the most important game of the season will be next week against Mississippi State.
And it's not just Sumlin. The players think this way too. They appreciate the game just played. But the important thing is the game ahead, not the last win, not the rankings.
"The rankings really don't mean anything," says wide receiver Tyron Carrier. "We just take it one game at a time, and we just have to stay focused."
"We concentrate on keeping our focus every day, whether we're in the film room, meeting room or practice field," says QB Case Keenum. "We try to maintain the focus at a high intensity. We try to practice at the same intensity as we do when we play, and carry it on to this week."
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And to Keenum, with Conference USA play starting this week for the Cougars, the season is starting all over. "We don't feel the pressure of keeping the record perfect," he says. "We still have to play like we have nothing to lose, it doesn't matter if we went 3-0 or 0-3 in the past three games, it's a 0-0 season now and we have to continue everything the same way."
If the team continues everything the same way, then they should be okay because the caliber of the upcoming competition is not going to be the caliber of the competition provided by Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Which, considering that somebody stole some of the players helmets after the Tech game, is probably a good thing.
But helmets, or no helmets, the Cougars should be able to defeat UTEP this week if the team just goes out and does what it always does. As Sumlin said, "Every field is the same. It's about us and how we handle things."
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES: The part above about the helmets is not a joke. Several player helmets are missing, and the team would really like for them to be returned....QB Case Keenum was named the Davey O'Brien Foundation Quarterback of the Week. And Keenum's name has also begun to be mentioned when the Heisman is discussed. And while honored, Keenum is focusing on other things: "I think everybody dreams about it and watches the Heisman ceremony and pictures themselves up there giving the speech," he says. "But we just have to keep winning games, not get ahead of ourselves, take it one week at a time, and we know UTEP is a talented team and is going to play hard."...Keenum and defensive tackle David Hunter were the Conference USA Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week....This week's game will not be televised. The radio broadcast will be at 7:05 on 790 The Sports Animal. And though it is not currently scheduled for television, next week's game with Mississippi State will now be televised, Game time and the network probably won't be known until early next week.