Strange as it may seem, if things had gone a bit differently in the college career of Drew Bledsoe, Kevin Sumlin might not have ended up in Houston. But strange as it may seem, that's the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Sumlin's first college coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Washington State. The head coach of Washington State was one Mike Price, the current head coach of tonight's UH opponent, UTEP. And after Sumlin worked a year on the defense, he was put in charge of the Washington State JV team, a move which necessitated Sumlin becoming an offensive head coach, and a job which put him in charge of one Drew Bledsoe.
"Mike [Price] said, 'I'll tell to you this. If this works out for you, and you coach this guy, and you learn this offense, you'll always have a job in college football,' Sumlin said at Tuesday's press briefing. 'If Drew Bledsoe gets hurt, you'll never work again.'"
Needless to say, Bledsoe went on to a stellar career at Washington State and with the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, and Dallas Cowboys. And Kevin Sumlin ended up as head coach at the University of Houston, an offensive machine headed up by Case Keenum and a high-octane receiving corps.
Coming off their 68-28 victory over Texas State on Saturday, the Cougars this week find themselves taking on conference foe UTEP Miners at 9:15 tonight. UTEP was the first team to dent the Cougars armor last season, upsetting the Coogs by a wide margin the week after the Texas Tech game. But that game no longer exists for the Cougars. Last season doesn't exist for the Cougars. The only thing that counts is this game being played tonight.
"It's our first conference game, which ought to get our attention right away," Sumlin said. "This team is traditionally, just looking talent-wise at our whole league, this team is probably the best blend of talent. You go to the East, you got bigger, stronger guys. Over here on the West side you've got some good speed type teams like us and Tulsa, SMU, fast guys. This team is probably the best blend of both, of big athletic guys."
The Cougars are confident that they can handle this game and defeat UTEP. But they would like some help. The help of the UH crowd. Last week's sold-out crowd blew the team and coaches away, and they see crowds as big and as noisy as last week's to be a huge asset.
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"It definitely creates a home field advantage for us," quarterback Case Keenum said. "It's incredible. I think it's really hard for people to come in and play. I remember talking with Nick Saenz, our safety. He was telling me about third downs, how loud it was on third downs, and how he almost got hoarse...that's huge."
The defensive players made a point of noting how the crowd noise affected the Texas State offense. And with UTEP being led by an experienced quarterback used to performing under pressure, senior Trevor Vittatoe, crowd noise, along with the team's aggressive, attacking defense could end up being a huge key to victory for the team.
Giving up 28 points to Texas State may not appear impressive for a major defensive unit, but as Sumlin pointed out, his first-team defense only played the first half, and in that first half, that first-team defense surrendered only one touchdown. Only one touchdown, and only 154 yards despite being on the field for 22 minutes of the half. The converse is that the offense was only on the field for less than eight minutes, though in that eight minutes they scored 54 points. So given the option of more balance, Sumlin will take the quick scoring offense any day.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Receiver Tryon Carrier echoed the praise of the staff and coaches regarding the sold-out crowd. "We're trying to make something real great here," he said. "Coach Sumlin's doing a good job of that. We feel like we're turning the city around. More red and white around here instead of some of the other colors."...One of UTEP's key players, Donald Buckram, who rushed for 262 yards against the Cougars last season, missed last week's game with an injury, and he's questionable for tonight, but Sumlin is confident that Buckram will suit up and play....UTEP and Houston have played seven times, with UTEP leading the series 4-3. But the Cougars are 2-0 in Houston....A quick reminder, you now need a permit to park in the lots surrounding Robertson Stadium. And to make things easier for tonight, the game-night parking lots were made off limits to students, faculty, and staff last night so as to make it easier for the fans to find parking tonight.