The Return of Case Keenum
See more pics of UH's win against UCLA, and tons of tailgaters, in our slideshow.
Photo by Marco Torres Case Keenum (right, with ball), carving up the UCLA D.
Case Keenum, dressed in full gear for the first time since destroying his right knee, takes his first live snap in nearly a year.
He rifles a pass to E.J. Smith for a gain of six. On the next play, number 7 tosses a first-down throw to Tyron Carrier. Fourteen plays later -- during a methodical textbook drive that features a key first-down scramble by Keenum in the red zone -- UH plunges across the goal line and takes a 7-0 lead over the UCLA Bruins.
Thanks to Keenum, who looks sharp in his first game since real-deal reconstructive knee surgery, the Cougars will never trail in an entertaining 38-34 victory in front of a nearly packed yard at Robertson Stadium, which saw a smattering of empty seats in the upper corners of the sidelines and end zones.
Keenum's performance -- 30 of 40 passing, 310 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions -- was impressive, but far from perfect. Feel free to debate if the mistakes were due to Keenum's rust or to the team's first-game growing pains, but the 23-year-old was hampered by a number of dropped passes as well as a no-excuse delay of game penalty following a TV timeout. Keenum also missed on a number of sideline go patterns, but the wind from Tropical Storm Lee, which gusted up to 44 miles per hour, may have had something to do with that.
However, against a more physical Pac-12 foe, Keenum carved up a UCLA defense that showed little resistance against the Cougars' up-tempo offense that yielded 469 total yards and only one sack. The Bruins actually outgained UH by 85 yards, but only forced the Cougars and Keenum, who threw for more than 300 yards for the 26th time in his collegiate career, into two three-and-outs.
During post-game interviews, there was a remarkably different tone in Keenum's voice compared to the one that Houston Press heard when we spent part of the offseason with the All-American quarterback as he struggled with rehabilitation.
The grueling behind-the-scenes work, at least on Saturday, paid off. And with a relatively soft schedule, Keenum and the Cougars could very well run the table, which they were expected to in 2010 before his season-ending injury, in 2011.