Cougars' defense matching hot offense

"Our goal was to come out, make improvements and get our confidence level back," Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin

INSIDE SLANT

Houston can get hot and cold. That's no big surprise.

But the hot usually comes in reference to its high-powered offense. But over the last 80 minutes of game time -- the final 20 minutes Sept. 17 at Louisiana Tech and the entire 60 minutes of Saturday's 56-0 shutout against FCS Georgia State -- the Cougars defense has been every bit as dominant as the offense.

"Our goal was to come out, make improvements and get our confidence level back," Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin said of his defense after the Georgia State win. "I feel that we have improved (on defense) even though people don't think so statistically. Our offense has put our defense in bad positions the last few weeks."

Even Heisman hopeful and soon-to-be NCAA passing and total offense career record-holder Case Keenum had to give it up for the guys on the other side of the ball after the cakewalk Georgia State win.

"You've got to give it to the defense," Keenum said. "Our defense played a heck of a game. They played incredible tonight."

With a short week heading into a Sept. 29 C-USA opener at UTEP, an injury-depleted team that actually played nationally ranked South Florida tough for three quarters Saturday, the Houston defense knows that if the program is going to continue to build on its 4-0 start, it will have to be because the defense continues to improve. And confidence, for the first time in a long time, is a huge boost right now.

"The defense is riding probably the highest wave right now," senior LB Marcus McGraw said. "We are excited and see ourselves improving week after week."

After the first month of the season, Houston's 22.8 points allowed per game through four games is good for fourth-best in C-USA. The competition level hasn't been great each week, but the Cougars on defense aren't about to make any apologies for that.

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Case Keenum continues chipping away at the national records for career passing yards and total offense.

His 404 yards of total offense (415 passing, minus-11 rushing) gives Keenum an even 16,000 yards of total offense in his career and he now sits alone in second place all-time in FBS history, trailing only Hawaii's Timmy Chang with 16,910 yards of total offense.

Keenum moved past Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell (15,599 yards, 2005-08) and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour (15,853, 2006-09).

The 415 passing yards also moved Keenum past BYU's Ty Detmer (15,031 yards, 1988-91) into third place all-time for passing yards.

--The 56-0 win over Georgia State on Saturday was Houston's first shutout since beating Louisiana-Lafayette 45-0 on Sept. 18, 1999, a span of 146 games.

"I feel that we have improved even though people don't think so statistically," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Our offense has put our defense in bad positions the last few weeks."

--The 56-0 over Georgia State on Saturday was impressive, but if you go back to the way the Cougars ended their Sept. 17 come-from-behind win over Louisiana Tech and combine it with the start of the Georgia State game, the team actually had a stretch of 56-0 play over just 37 minutes, 28 seconds.

From the 4:27 mark of the third quarter at La. Tech until the end of that game, the Cougars outscored the Bulldogs 28-0. By the 11:59 mark of the second quarter Sept. 24 against Georgia State, the Cougars were already up 28-0.

That's 56-0 in the span of 37:28.

"We are 50 percent. We have two games where we started fast and two games when we didn't," Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "The games we started fast were at home, so I believe that was a factor."

KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Derrick Matthews -- The freshman from Houston had a team-high nine tackles against Georgia State, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one sack while continuing to impress his coaches and assume the role as heir apparent to senior star Marcus McGraw. "Derrick is a tackling machine," Houston coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He is able to run free. To be able to make that many tackles, it has a lot to do with our front line. Having a strong front line has helped Marcus (McGraw) and Derrick make plays."

LOOKING GOOD: The Houston defense, yes, the Houston defense, was the talk of the postgame media conference as the unit posted its first shutout since 1999 with Saturday's 56-0 win over FCS Georgia State. Yes it was against an FCS school, but the 241 yards of total offense (108 rushing yards, 133 passing) were the fewest a Houston Cougars opponent posted since Texas Southern finished with just 179 total yards of offense (48 rushing, 131 passing) on Nov. 24, 2007. The linebackers continue to be the strength with Marcus McGraw, Sammy Brown and the emergence of freshman Derrick Mathews leading the way.

STILL NEEDS WORK: After beating an FCS foe 56-0, about the only thing the Houston Cougars didn't look all that great at was punting where sophomore Richie Leone didn't exactly get much work. When he was called upon, his two punts landed inside the 20-yard-line so it's a little nitpicky to gripe about his average of 37.5 yards per punt. Considering his season average of 47.9 yards is one of the best in the nation, his "still needs work" distinction comes more from a lack of work than from a lack of production.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are definitely not comfortable. We are 4-0 but we are not going to relax." -- Houston senior WR Justin Johnson.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES:

--RB Bryce Beall had 64 rushing yards in his team's win Saturday over FCS Georgia State to push his career total past the 3,000-yard plateau. He became only the third player in Houston history to do so, joining Chuck Weatherspoon (3,247 rushing yards from 1987-90) and program record-holder Ketric Sanford (3,636 from 1996-99). Beall's two rushing TDs against Georgia State adds to his school record of 37 on touchdowns on the ground and 44 TDs overall.

--Senior WRs Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards are still streaking. Carrier had five receptions for 90 yards vs. Georgia State to extend his national-leading consecutive games with a reception streak to 43 (every game he's ever played at Houston). Edwards had four catches for 76 yards to extend his consecutive games with a reception streak to 38-straight.

--RB Braxton Welford scored his first career touchdown on Sept. 24 against Georgia State with 1:29 left in the third quarter.

ROSTER REPORT

--RB Charles Sims got the start Saturday against Georgia State and had seven carries for 26 rushing yards and one touchdown.

--LE Eric Braswell made his first career start Saturday against Georgia State. The redshirt freshman finished with four tackles (all assisted).

--QB Crawford Jones saw his first time under center in mop-up duty during Saturday's win over Georgia State, pretty much closing the door on any thoughts that sophomore QB David Piland, last year's fill-in starter in the absence of injured starter Case Keenum and backup Cotton Turner, would fill in again. Piland was battling with Turner for the backup spot, but many have long assumed he'd be a redshirt this year. Jones went 1-for-2 for 18 yards.


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