Playing a school like Texas State to open up a football season is never quite as easy as it looks. Just ask Michigan and Ole Miss.
The Houston Cougars were very aware of the upset possibilities, and they were very aware of the opposite danger, that they could appear to be beating up on the school.
So the Cougars came out in the first period and quickly put the game out of reach, going up 20-7 after one quarter of football marred only by a blocked extra point. Quarterback Case Keenum made good use of all of his weapons, old and new, and the defense, at least the first team, put to good use the new defense they've been installing.
By the half, the score was 54-7 Houston, and the only questions were whether Keenum would play any of the second half, and whether the Cougars would try to score 100 points.
When Keenum's backup, Cotton Turner, came out and led the Cougars to two quick scores, it appeared that the Cougars were indeed trying to get to the 100, but then head coach Kevin Sumlin, having seen what he wanted from Turner, went the safe route and pulled in his team.
The Cougars won the game 68-28. However, they were so dominant, especially the first team, that it appeared the Cougars could have put triple digits in the scoring column while completely shutting down the Texas State offense.
"I thought our first units did what we asked them to do," Sumlin said afterwards. "I thought our guys came out early -- and based on a bunch of games I watched earlier [Saturday] -- it looked like there were some nerves all across the country [Saturday] -- I thought our guys came out and did what we asked them to do. They came out and played hard, particularly the first units."
In his two quarters of play, Keenum completed 17 of 24 passes for 274 yards and five touchdowns, although he did throw two interceptions. James Cleveland, Tyron Carrier, and Patrick Edwards all did their jobs as receivers, but as Cleveland predicted last week, Kierrie Johnson broke out, catching three passes and scoring two touchdowns.
New running back Michael Hayes gained only 18 yards on four rushes, but the very first time he touched the ball was when he caught a pass from Keenum and went 40 yards for the TD.
It was an overall impressive performance for the packed Robertson Stadium crowd. For not only did the offense put up points, but so did the defense. Linebacker Matt Nicholson, returning from a knee injury which caused him to miss most of last season, intercepted a pass and returned it 42 yards for the touchdown.
"It was great," Nicholson said. 'I kind of blacked out. It all happened so fast. That's the kind of thing you dream about. It was great. My heart's still beating on it."
This was also the first time that the Cougars got to show off their new defense under game conditions against another team. And while there are still some kinks that need to be worked out, defensive coordinator Brian Stewart was, overall, pleased.
"I think that some of the pressures that we did I was excited about," he said. "Our third down early that ended up being a sack for us, I thought that was a key. The other thing, our guys are starting to understand what we're doing when we do it, and why. I think that's huge. The more you get all 11 on the same page with that the better we are."
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SHOW ME HOW
But despite the victory, despite the performances, the one thing above all that the coaches and players wanted to talk about after the game was the crowd. Or rather, the sellout crowd of 32,119, the largest crowd in Robertson Stadium history, and the first opening game sellout since the team's been at Robertson.
"That's incredible," Keenum said. "The students were awesome. I thought that was incredible. They're showing up. They were there two hours early. They were packed there early. Then everybody else, too. We had a huge showing. I was asking somebody else, on the way over here, I don't remember the last time we sold out a season opener -- I haven't seen anything on that, and I'd like to see when the last time we did that -- it's just great to see the city of Houston and everybody behind us. It means so much. I really can't put it into words how much their support has meant to us, and it's really cool."
A MISCELLANEOUS NOTE:
I've criticized UH fans in the past for bitching about a lack of respect while failing to sell out the stadium. So this time, I just want to say well done. The stadium was packed and the crowd was loud. That truly meant a lot to the coaches and players. But here's just a reminder, even though Friday's game against UTEP is at 9:15 p.m., it is going to be nationally televised by ESPN. And if the place isn't sold out, you just know that the ESPN broadcast crew isn't going to be shy about blasting fickle fans, so don't give them that opportunity.