Coogs Win...With A Running Game?
So it was obvious when, come the start of Friday's Houston/UTEP game, UTEP drove the field for a touchdown without the UH doing much defensive damage, that the Cougar defense was going to have to make some adjustments.
Make those adjustments they did, winning the game 54-24.
The Cougar offense began their game adjustments on their second play. On their first play, trailing 7-0, Keenum threw deep for James Cleveland, and missed. Then the offense made an adjustment they'd been working on all week.
And it was something rather revolutionary and unexpected for the Cougars -- a little something known as the running game. The Cougar defense adjusted to a UTEP offense trying to run a spread offense. The UTEP defense never adjusted to a UH offense going with a power running game.
A power running game that saw junior Bryce Beall have the game of his college career, scoring three times and gaining 195 yards on 19 rushes. Beall was joined in the rushing fun by juco transfer Michael Hayes who also scored three times on 17 rushes for 77 yards to go with four receptions for 75 yards.
The offense gained a total of 656 yards, but only one of the team's seven touchdowns came by way of their customary passing game. And even then, that TD was one of adjustment as it was junior QB Cotton Turner, subbing for the injured Case Keenum, who tossed a beauty of a pass to James Cleveland.
Turner was in the game because of a third-quarter injury to Keenum, every Cougars' fan worst nightmare. Keenum threw an interception and appeared to be kicked in the helmet as he attempted to make the tackle.
But ultimately, Keenum, who finished 15 for 24 for 279 yards and one interception, was secondary to the coming-out party of Beall and the UH offensive line.
"I said earlier in the week, the most physical team, and the team that was going to be able to run the ball, and could stop the run, would win the game," head coach Kevin Sumlin said after the game. "And our offensive line took that as a challenge."
The offensive line, which normally is tasked with keeping rushers off of Keenum long enough for a pass, excelled, dominating the line of scrimmage and opening hole after hole for Beall, Hayes, and anybody else running the football.
"It was fun," Beall said. "Our O-line did a great job. We knew that coming in we would have a chance to run the ball. It was just fun to go out there and picking out holes to run through, and hitting them and running hard."
Beall was somewhat of a forgotten man for the UH offense last season, which was rather strange seeing as how he was the C-USA freshman offensive player of the year several seasons ago. But his number was called on Friday night, and he responded.
As did Hayes, Turner, and the rest of the offense.
The UTEP defense was never able to fully adjust to the Cougars changed offensive attack, and the UTEP offense, which went heavy on the pass due to the absence of stud running back Donald Buckram, was never able, while the game was still in doubt, to actually mount another good offensive drive and put points up on the board.
Sumlin admitted after the game that UTEP came out playing the exact opposite of what he and the coaches had been prepping the Cougars all week, but the coaches and players adjusted to the new look UTEP offense and put a stop to the Miners hopes.
As a result, the Cougars got a win that was important for several reasons. It was a conference win. They were able to win without Keenum.
And with the stress on the running game, the Cougars served notice to the rest of the teams they're playing this season that they just can't focus on stopping the passing game. Not as long as Bryce Beall is around. Next up for the 2-0 Cougars is a trip to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl next Saturday to take on the UCLA Bruins.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES: The Coogs made it into the top 25, coming in at 23 in bothe the AP and USA Today polls...The announced attendance for Friday's game was 32,119. This was the second straight sellout of Robertson Stadium, and it was the first time that the Cougars have ever actually sold out Robertson on consecutive games....Speaking of the crowd, the Cougar defense was adamant in their belief that the UTEP offense, which suffered numerous false start penalties throughout the game, were thrown off by the crowd noise. "I'm pretty sure it was the noise," linebacker Marcus McGraw said. "I could barely hear out there. It might have been even louder than it was last week."...Kevin Sumlin said on Sunday afternoon that Case Keenum was displaying symptoms of a mild concussion. The team has been following a concussion management plan since Saturday morning. While Keenum's condition "has improved dramatically," his prognosis for this week is day-to-day....Cotton Turner said his task was made easier by the excellent play of Beall, Hayes, and the offensive line as well as by his weekly game preparation.. "Just go out there and execute the offense the way you do in practice and the way you know how to do it," he said. 'You kind of just prepare yourself like you'll be the starter every week."