Cautious optimism about a Sept. 10 concussion for star quarterback Case Keenum turned to shocking disbelief last week when the reality that a run at a BCS Bowl game is now in the hands of a true freshman.
Keenum, a senior who had his sights set on becoming the NCAA's all-time leading passer this season and held long shot Heisman hopes, tore his ACL while trying to make a tackle in a loss at UCLA Saturday.
He's lost for the season.
Making matters worse for the Cougars was that a quarter later, junior backup Cotton Turner's season came to an end when he fractured his clavicle.
"I am very disappointed for both these young men," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "It's hard to see them hurting right now. They both are a big part of this team and wanted to be contributors to its success this season. I think they can still do that with their off-the-field leadership."
Leadership from the sidelines won't score points for the once-dangerous Cougars passing attack.
The responsibility of keeping that offensive machine churning now falls on the shoulders of a pair of freshmen quarterbacks -- Terrance Broadway and David Piland -- who Sumlin acknowledged Sunday night he had hoped to redshirt this season.
"We can't have a drastic departure from what we do," Sumlin said when asked about how this will change the offense.
Broadway, a dual threat athlete who runs more than any quarterback in recent memory at Houston, played well in relief of Turner and Keenum at UCLA. He led the Cougars on their only touchdown drive. He's the likely starter, even if he's a far cry from the pure passer that Keenum is.
But what Broadway does have is the confidence of his teammates.
"I called Terrance the other night and told him, 'Good job,' and that we're all on his ship now," junior receiver Tyron Carrier told the Houston Chronicle. "He's got to lead this team, and that's what he's going to do."
--The record-setting pursuit of QB Case Keenum came to an end last week when he tore his ACL against UCLA, ending his senior season.
Keenum had 636 passing yards this season, completing 66 percent of his passes and tossing five touchdowns.
He ends his illustrious career ranked fifth in passing yards (13,586 yards), seventh all time in total offense (14,448 yards), eighth in touchdown passes (107), 10th in pass attempts (1,626) and seventh in completions (1,118).
--Junior WR Tyron Carrier has caught a pass in every game of his college career, which is 30 games strong.
The 30 consecutive games with a reception is the fourth-longest active streak in the nation, trailing Colorado's Scotty McKnight (40), East Carolina's Dwayne Harris (34) and West Virginia's Jock Sanders (31).
All three players on the list ahead of Carrier are seniors.
--Maybe it's a bit of hyperbole, but the Houston Chronicle this week posed the question to Cougars fans about where the injuries to QB Case Keenum and Cotton Turner in the same game rank among a dubious list of disasters in the sports history of the school.
The injuries were thrown in the conversation with the following: Houston's basketball team losing the 1983 NCAA championship at the last second to N.C. State; Notre Dame's Joe Montana leading an improbable comeback over the Cougars in the 1979 Cotton Bowl; The Miami Hurricanes essentially ending the era of the run-and-shoot offense at Houston with an embarrassing 1991 blowout in the second game of the regular season; and a pair of Texas Longhorn defeats of unbeaten Cougars teams in 1990 and 1979.
It's hard to imagine the long-term impact of last week's injuries rivaling those listed above, but in terms of the 2010 season, it certainly couldn't get much worse.
SERIES HISTORY: Houston leads Tulane 11-4 (last meeting, 2009, 44-16 Houston).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Things change in a hurry, and there is no good way to know what to expect from the Houston offense this week without star QB Case Keenum or backup Cotton Turner running the show. True freshman QB Terrance Broadway, who is as talented a runner as he is a passer, changes the dynamic of the Houston offense for sure and requires other players to take on the leadership role Keenum filled. "We've got to get a plan in place as coaches to give our young guys a chance at quarterback," Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Our team, we've been through adversity of all kinds. I don't know that we've been through this type yet, but certainly we're going to have to depend on some leadership from within."
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Houston's defense has claimed it is ready to take some of the headlines from its high-powered offense. Now, it will have to. Unfortunately, the Cougars weren't very good against UCLA last week, allowing 31 points in less than three quarters before UCLA took the foot off the gas and coasted to a 31-13 victory in Los Angeles. Most concerning is a Houston run defense that allowed the Bruins to have their way with the Cougars' front seven to the tune of 266 rushing yards. Houston will have to start generating some pressure from its defensive line if it wants to slow down opposing offenses.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "As we all know, plans change." -- Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin in response to a question about whether the team had planned to redshirt freshmen QBs Terrance Broadway and David Piland this season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Tulane at Houston, Sept. 25 -- Houston's first game post-Keenum will fortunately come against a Tulane team relying heavily on freshmen, too. Tulane, idle last week, has scored all its points off freshmen on the roster -- true freshman RB Orleans Darkwa with four rushing TDs, and K Cairo Santos has four field goals and four extra points.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Houston says it will try to keep the same offense it has used in years past, but with a true freshman running the offense, look for Tulane to put pressure on him. QB Terrance Broadway can run better than he can pass and will likely be quick to tuck it and take off if the blitz is coming. If he does that, the Cougars' offense may never find its usual rhythm.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Terrance Broadway -- Broadway is more athletic and a far better runner than senior QB Case Keenum or junior QB Cotton Turner. Broadway, the expected starter this week at Tulane, will be asked to keep the offense running like it has been for years, which may negate his running ability and ask him to pass more than he's comfortable with.
RB Bryce Beall -- The change in quarterbacks means a player like Beall will be asked to shoulder more of the offensive load than normal. If Beall can produce on the ground like he did against UTEP on Sept. 10, when he was the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week, Broadway's trial by fire at QB will be much easier.
QB David Piland -- Piland comes from a winning high school program that throws the ball like crazy at Southlake Carrol, but he still was hoping for a year as a redshirt to grow comfortable in Houston's pass-happy system. He is not the second stringer and may get some looks, as the coaching staff is still determining who will be the long-term answer at quarterback this season.
--Senior QB Case Keenum is lost for the season after suffering a torn ACL trying to make a tackle after throwing an interception in the team's Sept. 18 loss at UCLA.
The ACL tear came a week after Keenum was pulled from a win over UTEP after suffering a concussion while trying to make a tackle following an interception.
--Backup QB Cotton Turner, a junior, broke his right clavicle in a Sept. 18 loss at UCLA, ending his season. The injury came in the same game that starting QB Case Keenum was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
--True freshman QB Terrance Broadway will get a little trial by fire action this week vs. Tulane. With Keenum and Turner both out for the season, the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder from Baton Rouge is expected to play the rest of the season for the pass-happy Cougars.