as a muddy field caused by a torrential downpour would be the only way this offense cold be slowed down these days. Those thoughts were all for naught however, as the Coogs adjusted to what Rice was doing on both sides of the ball, outscoring the Owls 45-3 over the 2nd and 3rd quarters, en route to a 73-34 victory Thursday night at the Rob behind Keenum's nine passing touchdowns. The victory brought the "Bayou Bucket" back to its rightful home. The Cougars have now won 28 of the 39 meetings between the cross town rivals.
The skies opened up early in the 1st quarter and had a lot to do with two of the three turnovers committed by the Cougars, leading to 14 of the Owls first 17 points-the aforementioned fumble by Keenum and a fumble on a muffed kickoff return attempt by upback Austin Lunsford, giving the Owls the ball at the Houston 29 yard line. Three plays and one minute later Rice would lead 17-7, shocking most of the 32,112 in attendance. Rice knew they would have to start the game by punching the Cougars in the face and that's exactly what they did. They threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Coogs defense in the early going. Offensively, the Owls employed the "Wild Owl" formation using running back Turner Peterson's massive 220 pound frame in the ‘ QB read option' game. This confused the Cougars defense in the early on, especially the line backing core of Sammy Brown, Marcus McGraw, Derrick Mathews and Phillip Steward as they were undisciplined in their rush lanes, usually over running and missing Peterson and fellow running back Tyler Smith. Both Rice running backs combined for 310 of the Owls 359 total rushing yards on 36 carries (Peterson had 140 yards on 23 carries, Smith- 173, 13). The Owls also rotated both of their quarterbacks, Taylor McHargue and Nick Fanuzzi early and often so the defense couldn't decipher Rice's game plan. With both safeties (Kent Brooks or Colton Valencia at strong and Nick Saenz or D.J. Hayden at free) playing high in the Cougars base cover-2 shell zone defense, the Owls had room to run once they flew by the confused linebackers. Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart adjusted quickly, often loading the box with either safety or an extra linebacker, forcing the Owls to beat the Cougars with their passing game, which they could not. The Owls passed for only 116 yards on seven total completions between the three QBs. The Cougars aggressive 3-4 scheme is built for the linebackers to make plays all over the field as the four have a combined 258 of the defenses 690 total tackles, or 37% worth. Steward and Mathews lead the defense with 12 tackles a piece, followed by Brown's 10 (including 2 for loss and a sack giving him 18.5 and 8.5 on the season respectively). Up front, ends Eric Braswell and Kelvin King played well as Braswell's 1.5 TFL and one pass break up would attest. Both Hayden and Saenz registered tackles for loss once the defense began loading the box.
McGraw on Rice's game plan early and the adjustment the Cougars made, "We knew they were going to come out and read a lot so we just had to see how they were going to block it. At the beginning we just tried to get up the best we could and go to the sidelines to try to make adjustments. It's one of those things where you try to do the best you can with executing the adjustments from the sideline. When we were on the sidelines, we did a great job of communicating and relaying the adjustments to make sure that we were on the same page." Stewart knows that with the total amount of time spent on the field (opposing offenses possess the ball for almost 35 minutes per game) his defense doesn't need to shut down opposing offenses, only stop them a few times, and more importantly at key times each game. During the 2nd quarter through the middle of the third, the defense held Rice's offense to a "3 & out" four consecutive times, giving the ball back to the offense with good field position. Head coach Kevin Sumlin on the play of the defense overall, "We just have to be more consistent we showed flashes of doing well then we go by giving up a 97 touchdown run(to Tyler Smith) and we can't do that. To be the team that we really want to be, we still have some things we have to clean up. I think we are getting better and I have said, we're getting better every week and we need to do that. If we can continue to improve, and get healthy because we got a little dinged up tonight, but if we can come back and really gather ourselves and get healthy to get ready and go on the road next weekend then we'll be alright."
Regardless of how well or poor the defense played, this night belonged to the offense, particularly Keenum as he completed 24 of 37 passes for 534 yards and 9 TDs (yes 9 TDs). This is the Cougars forth game in a row with at least 570 yards of total offense (656 total versus Rice) and third in a row of scoring at least 56. This offense is based on the short passing game, however – like any offense; it can adjust based on the looks opposing defenses are giving. Rice decided to play man coverage with one safety up top, so co-offensive coordinators Kliff Kingsbury and Jason Phillips adjusted (like their defensive counterparts), and burned Rice deep, as the Owl's linebackers and safeties could not cover the Cougar receivers one on one in space. One of the major criticisms of Keenum is his inability to make all of the types of passes needed to succeed at the next level, particularly the deep ball. With Rice not adjusting their defensive scheme, Keenum completed six passes of at least 35 yards downfield on precision bombs, placing most of the beautifully in only spots that Cougar receivers could catch the ball. Keenum's accuracy (71.9 completion percentage this season) along with his decision making abilities (32 TD passes to only 3 picks-throwing one in the 1st ending his streak of 168 passes without an interception) lead me to believe he is a sure fire star in the NFL one day.
Wide receiver Patrick Edwards was the main benefactor of Rice's inability to cover as he had caught seven of Keenum's passes for 318 yards and 5 TDs. He now has 1.069 yards on the season on 55 receptions for an astounding 21 yards per catch average. He also has 11 TD receptions on the season. Tyron Carrier chipped in with 85 yards on 7 catches and one TD while slot receiver Justin Johnson had 48, 3 and 1 respectively. Many of the long gainers were from slot receivers who were matched up one on one against either a Rice linebackers Nwosu and Justin Allen or safeties Paul Porras and Xavier Webb. Poor Paul was burned several times by Edwards as he was given the inalienable task of covering Edwards with no help after being asked to replace all everything safety Andrew Sandejo earlier in the season. Running back Charles Sims was once again huge in the passing game as he burned Rice on four receptions for 73 yards and two TDs. For the season Sims is averaging 16.2 yards per catch on 18 total receptions.
Speaking of the running backs, Sims had 51 yards on 7 carries which was right behind Michael Hayes 77 tough yards on 12 carries. Bryce "Brick" Beall did not play for a second straight game due to a hamstring injury. The Cougars RBs combined for 122 total yards on 26 carries (including -19 on a sack and a tackle for loss on Keenum).
The Cougars special teams played another solid game as Carrier started the game returning the opening kickoff up the middle and to his right untouched for a 100 yard TD. Matt Hogan made only his 6th field goal of the season (on 8 attempts) and continues his solid career by making 32 of 37 for a percentage of 86.5. Punter Richie Leone had only three punts for a 43 yard average, placing one of them inside the 20. Kicker Jordan Mannisto had four touchbacks on eleven attempts, giving him 21 on the season out of 52 total kickoffs, good for a 40.3 touchback percentage (9th nationally).
The best part of the night was intentionally saved for last, IE all of the individual records tied or broken by various Cougars (both offensively and defensively) on the evening:
-With his 9 TDs, Keenum now has 139 for his career, which broke the NCAA FBS record of 134 set by former Texas Tech great Graham Harrell. Also, with his 534 yards passing on the evening, he is now 281 from the all time record of 17,072 set by former Hawaii QB Timmy Chang. Case now has 16,805 on his career.
-With his 100 yard kickoff return for a TD, Carrier now has seven in his career, tying the all time record with former Clemson RB C.J. Spiller. Also, with his seven catches Carrier now has more career receptions than any other Cougar in history, with 277- passing Vincent Marshall's 272.
-With his 5 TD receptions, Edwards now has 34 in his career, tying him with former Cougar great Elmo Wright.
-With his six assisted tackles, McGraw now has 234 on his career, passing the 228 of former Cougar Wade Phillips. He also now has 449 total career tackles, needing just 59 to over take former linebacker Ryan McCoy's 507 as the Coogs all time leading tackler.
All in all it was a GREAT night to be a Cougar. The team is 8-0 (4-0 in CUSA) and has tied the 1990 team for best start in Cougar history. The team has now won 20 in a row at home when ranked. The Cougars will now be tested as the next two games will be on the road; Saturday November 5th at UAB followed by a quick turnaround on Thursday Nov. 10th at Tulane. They close the season with two tough CUSA games as they host SMU on Saturday November the 19th and are at Tulsa the day after Thanksgiving, Friday November the 26th as they try to take this magical season all the way to a BCS bowl game.