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UH back in driver’s seat

Cougars down Memphis, benefit from SMU loss

By STEVE CAMPBELL
Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle

Nov. 21, 2009, 9:10PM

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Nick de la Torre Chronicle

Case Keenum set a school record for career touchdown passes with 94, surpassing David Klingler’s 91.

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The Houston Cougars had a moment of unclarity after the opening kickoff. Only 10 offensive players were on the field, and the play clock was speeding to zero. Eight seconds into the game, UH coach Kevin Sumlin took a timeout.

A drizzle fell on Robertson Stadium while the Cougars tried to restore order. UH center Carl Barnett snapped a slippery football out of the reach of quarterback Case Keenum, and running back Charles Sims did well to recover the fumble for a 14-yard loss.

Instead of letting that be an omen of bloopers and blunders to come, the Cougars made sure it was an aberration. No. 24 UH regained control of the Conference USA West race by cutting a 55-14 swath through the Memphis Tigers.

A crowd of 22,036 saw the Cougars (9-2, 5-2 in C-USA) rebound from a 37-32 defeat at UCF one week earlier. The Cougars had so much focus, so much clarity, they scored on eight of their first nine possessions. Keenum didn’t take a snap after the 34th minute and still accumulated 29 completions in 39 attempts for 405 yards and five touchdowns.

Just like that, the Cougars can win the West with a victory at Robertson this Saturday against Rice (2-9, 2-5).

“I don’t know that a coach is ever completely happy with a game,” Sumlin said. “But I really thought our guys responded well coming off last week. It’s probably as good an effort as we’ve had all year.”

Keenum sets TD record

The Cougars needed only 8:10 of the first quarter to build a 21-0 lead, with Keenum sandwiching touchdown passes to L.J. Castile and Tim Monroe around a touchdown run by Sims (15 carries, 90 yards). By halftime, the Cougars had 443 yards and a 42-14 lead. Though Sumlin sat out leading receiver James Cleveland and running back Bryce Beall because of injuries and substituted liberally in the second half, the Cougars had a 689-344 windfall in total offense.

“We looked at ourselves last week and realized we haven’t played our best football game yet,” said Keenum, a junior from Abilene who has passed for 4,599 yards. “We’re ready to go out and do that. We’re striving for the perfect game every game. You can say that’s hard to do, but we feel like we’ve got the talent and ability and put the work in to do that.”

Keenum spread his five touchdown passes to four different receivers, with Castile catching the first and fifth. In the process, Keenum increased his career total to 94 touchdown passes — three more than the previous UH record of 91 set by David Klingler. The record-breaker was a 57-yarder in the second quarter to Patrick Edwards, who got behind the Memphis defense on a post pattern for the Cougars’ longest touchdown pass of the season.

“It’s definitely an honor with the quarterbacks who have played before,” Keenum said. “We’re definitely not finished yet. You can ask any of my receivers, any of my offensive guys. It’s an in-counting deal. We’ll see where that goes.”

‘D’ gets confidence boost

The UH defense, for its part, strung together consecutive scoreless quarters for the first time since a 55-7 victory over Northwestern State in the opener. The only silver lining under the cloudy skies for the Tigers (2-9, 1-6) is that Curtis Steele rushed for 160 yards to push his season total to 1,007.

“It shows us if we play hard all four quarters of a game, we can stop teams,” UH linebacker Marcus McGraw said. “We can only give up 14 points a game. It’s a big confidence boost.”

The Cougars also got the peace of mind of seeing sophomore walk-on Cotton Turner enter the game with 9:24 left in the third quarter and run the offense efficiently (13-of-16, 173 yards). On Turner’s first drive, he threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Fendi Onobun. Turner hit E.J. Smith in stride on a deep post for 47 yards on the next drive.

For a welcome change, the Cougars took some pressure off themselves. They also turned up the heat on SMU (6-5, 5-2), which fell out of the West lead with a 34-31 defeat at Marshall.

“What’s happened has happened,” Sumlin said. “We can’t be worrying about what everyone else is doing. I just think if we handle this (coming) week the way we handled last week — not worried about what somebody else does — then there will be some good stuff out there for us.”

steve.campbell@chron.com


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