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Saturday, September 23, 2023


Conference opener win yields lessons for Houston

Houston picked up its first win of the season and first Conference USA win with Saturday’s 34-10 rout of Tulane in New Orleans, and in doing so the Cougars learned a few more things about themselves.

For starters, the reigning C-USA champions learned that there is hope for their 4-2-5 defense after all. Houston (1-1, 1-0 C-USA) applied consistent pressure to Tulane starting quarterback Scott Elliott, laid some big hits, broke up 11 passes and forced two turnovers.

The Cougars also found out that they don’t have to depend solely on senior running back Anthony Alridge to carry their rushing attack. Freshman Terrance Ganaway contributed to the latter by coming off the bench and providing steady yards against Tulane (0-2, 0-1 C-USA).

But Houston also learned something troubling: Its offense still struggles to secure the football, especially when deep inside its opponents’ territory.

The Cougars committed three turnovers against Tulane, all occurring inside the redzone. Those mistakes prevented Houston from putting more points on the scoreboard, allowing the outcome to appear much closer than it probably should have been.

The Cougars left at least three touchdowns on the field and continued their torrid pace of committing turnovers. Combined with its 48-27 season-opening loss to Oregon on Sept. 1, Houston has committed seven turnovers in two games.

Cougars head coach Art Briles said he was concerned with the turnovers, but fortunate to have the win.

"It’s hard to win any time, anywhere and any place," said Briles, who improved his record against Tulane to 5-0. "We knew Tulane would come in here and play tough.

"We’re just glad to get out of here with our first conference win because we had four conference games last year on the road, and we came from behind to win on three of them, and lost the other one."

The Cougars had an easy time moving the ball down the field on the Green Wave, finishing with 505 total yards (304 passing, 201 rushing). With the quarterback duo of redshirt freshman Case Keenum, who got the start, and redshirt sophomore Blake Joseph leading the way, the Cougars racked up 24 first downs and scored on four of their five possessions of the redzone.

But the Cougars let two early scoring opportunities get away from them, largely because of Keenum, who was intercepted twice by Tulane free safety David Skehan in the first and the second quarters. Both interceptions occurred inside the Tulane 5 yard line.

After the second interception, Briles summoned Joseph from the bench to stabilize the offense. Joseph did just that, completing 10-of-12 passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

Joseph played for much of the game’s remainder. Keenum (13-of-21 passing, 185 yards, 1 TD) replaced him late in the third, and finished the game.

"I think (Blake) did a good job without starting and coming in to keep us going," Briles said. "Case came out and started and made a couple of mistakes."

"And that’s what I’ve been saying all along, everybody’s worried about the quarterback position. I’m not worried about it. We’ve got two guys that can play, and that’s kind of like having a pitcher. If a pitcher’s hot, you leave him. If he starts giving up runs, you put the other guy in there. It’s a comfortable situation because our guys have confidence in both of them."

It also helped Keenum and Joseph that the running game was solid. Alridge rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, and Ganaway picked up 82 yards on eight carries.

"I’m glad I didn’t have 20 carries this game," said Alridge, who also caught a 49-yard touchdown pass. "It just feels good to be on the sideline and watching (my backups) perform. They did a great job, especially Ganaway. He did a real good job of relieving me."

But in the end, it was the defense that turned in the most consistent outing. Two weeks after surrendering 473 yards to Oregon, the Cougars held the Green Wave to 313 yards and forced seven punts.

That performance told the Cougars -†and perhaps C-USA – what their defense is capable of doing this season.

"We tried to come out and make a statement to the conference that we’re here to repeat (as champions), but a lot of that was hanging from that loss we took at Oregon two weeks ago," junior strong safety Kenneth Fontenette said. "So we came out here, and everybody had to play better."

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