Cougars stun Louisiana Tech with comeback

When the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs took a 34-7 lead on their home field Sept. 17 with just 5 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the third quarter, many had already written off the Cougars.

INSIDE SLANT

No one can say the Houston Cougars are boring.

When the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs took a 34-7 lead on their home field Sept. 17 with just 5 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the third quarter, many had already written off the Cougars.

Not head coach Kevin Sumlin.

"We've been in that position so many times, not real proud of that, but we have guys who know what it takes to win," Sumlin said.

Really, coach?

Down 27 points with just more than 20 minutes remaining in a game in which your sixth-year senior quarterback Case Keenum at that point had thrown for just 83 yards and two interceptions?

Down 27 points against a team that had bullied its way through the heart of your defense for three rushing touchdowns at that point?

Apparently Sumlin knew what he was talking about.

The senior-led offense improved to 3-0 and kept their dreams of a perfect regular season alive by rattling off 28-unanswered points (they even found time for one drive in the last 20 minutes in which they punted) and beating the Bulldogs for the improbable 35-34 win.

And the reason they did it, and the reason many around Cougars football this season think this team is destined for a special season, is because of the amount of veteran leadership lining the roster.

"You look at who made those plays at the end of the game -- our senior class," Sumlin said. "These are guys who have been in a lot of big ball games, and they understand it and know how to win."

Of course Sumlin would rather those senior leaders get the team to win comfortably from here on out, but as long as the scoreboard shows his team ahead at the final buzzer, he'll take the Ws however he can get them.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Houston's 35-34 win at Louisiana Tech on Saturday was the program's biggest come-from-behind victory in school history.

The Cougars trailed La. Tech 34-7 with under five minutes to go in the third quarter before scoring 28 unanswered points in a span of 17 minutes, 51 seconds.

The comeback topped the team's 19-point rally against C-USA West Division foe UTEP in a 42-37 Houston win on Nov. 22, 2008.

The comeback was also the first time since 1948 the Houston/La. Tech game was even close. In the series' previous four games -- a 2-2 split -- the average margin of victory was 41.8 points.

--Through three games, Houston has outscored opponents 62-26 in the first and fourth quarters this season. In the second and third quarters, the 3-0 Cougars have been outscored 65-59.

Against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 17, Houston outscored the Bulldogs 21-7 in the first and fourth quarters while the Bulldogs held a 27-14 edge in the middle two quarters.

And time of possession reflects the scoring numbers as La. Tech held the ball for 20:42 in the second and third quarters while Houston had the ball for just 9:18 over the same span.

--QB Case Keenum's record chase is progressing nicely this season, especially after his great fourth quarter at Louisiana Tech on Saturday.

Through the game's first 40 minutes, Keenum had just 83 passing yards and two interceptions and not so coincidently, the Cougars trailed 34-7.

In the game's final 20 minutes, Keenum threw for 268 passing yards and led four scoring drives without turnover for the come-from behind victory. His final stat line was 25-of-40 for 351 yards, three TDs, two interceptions and two sacks.

Keenum now has 117 career TD passes, passing La. Tech legent Tim Rattay (116 from 1997-99) into a fourth-place tie with former Hawaii QB Timmy Chang. Ty Detmer's 121 career TD passes is next on the list at No. 3.

KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Justin Johnson -- The senior WR has grown accustomed to playing second, or rather third fiddle to fellow senior WRs Patrick Edwards and Tyron Carrier, but not over the past two weeks. Johnson has posted career-highs in receiving yards in each of the past two games -- 87 yards at North Texas on Sept. 10 and 100 yards at La. Tech on Sept. 17.

LOOKING GOOD: Despite Louisiana Tech racking up 34 points, 233 rushing yards and 444 yards of total offense, Cougars head coach Kevin Sumlim was singing the praises of his defense after the game, pointing out many of the yards and points racked up early in the game were the result of a Cougars offense that played far below expectations.

"Our offense didn't give our defense a chance really at first, kept (Louisiana Tech) on the field and allowed them to really control the clock," Sumlin said. "I'm proud of how they hung in there the whole game. Our defense rose to the occasion and created some stops." To Sumlin's point, La. tech ran 98 plays in the game to just 75 for Houston and won the time of possession battle 34:14 to 25:46. What really looked good for the Cougars was the defensive stops in the fourth quarter when they forced a fumble, picked off a pass and forced a turnover on downs.

STILL NEEDS WORK: As good as the Houston defense was in the fourth quarter, the fact remains the Cougars can't seem to stop the run. Louisiana Tech rushed for 233 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground in the Sept. 17 Houston win in Ruston, La. It was the second time in three games this season the Cougars rush defense allowed a team to rush for more than 230 yards on the ground (UCLA had 232 and three touchdowns on the ground on Sept. 3). The Cougars allowing 194.3 rushing yards per game ranks them No. 95 in the nation for FBS schools.

Fortunately in C-USA, apparently no one stops the run, as four C-USA teams are allowing teams to rush for more than 200 yards per game early this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "When you play football, you can't stop fighting. If you stop, you'll never know what could have happened." -- Houston senior LB Marcus McGraw to the Houston Chronicle after the Cougars rallied from 27 points down for a 35-34 win at La. Tech on Saturday.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES:

--K Matt Hogan, a junior, had five extra points in Houston's win over Louisiana Tech on Saturday to push him over the 100-point mark for his Cougars career. He is 102-for-111 on PATs and is the fourth kicker in Houston history with at least 100 career PATs.

--WRs Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards each kept their consecutive games with a reception streak intact at La. Tech Sept. 17. Carrier had a game-high seven receptions (although they went for just 35 total yards) and has now caught a pass in a national-leading 42-consecutive games. Edwards, meanwhile, had just three catches but those went for 81 yards in including a pair of TDs and he has caught at least one pass in 37-consecutive games.

--LBs Marcus McGraw, a senior, and Derrick Matthews, a freshman, each posted a game-high 16 tackles in the Sept. 17 win over Louisiana Tech. For Matthews, the career high topped his previous high of eight. For McGraw, the 16 tackles give him 408 career tackles, moving him past Hanik Milligan (2000-02) into third place all-time in Houston history.

ROSTER REPORT

--RB Charles Sims returned to the Houston roster for the Saturday game at Louisiana Tech after he "got banged up" in the Sept. 3 UCLA win. Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin has not elaborated on Sims' injury, especially now that he's back on the field.

At La. Tech, Sims had five carries for 14 yards and four receptions for 52 yards.


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