Cougars take Blazers for ride
Turnovers were the problem for Houston coming into Saturday’s game against Alabama-Birmingham, but the Cougars turned around those numbers against the Blazers with a 49-10 win at Legion Field.
Houston (4-3, 3-1 Conference USA) came into the game with 20 turnovers in their first six games, while UAB (2-5, 1-2 C-USA) only had eight in six games.
In the first half alone, the Cougars forced four interceptions.
Senior safety Rocky Schwartz had two interceptions by halftime, and three of the four Cougar interceptions led to touchdowns for Houston.
The Cougars’ lone turnover came when Houston was trying to eat up the clock in the fourth quarter.
"The defense played great all the way back from the defensive line… linebackers played great and everybody played great across the board," Schwartz said. "My first interception, I think he drop that one right into my arms so there wasn’t really much that I did. I think it was a real big momentum turner because we took it and went down and scored, so it tells it all right there."
This was the first convincing win for Houston since Sept. 15 when the Cougars beat Tulane 34-10, because every game since then has come down to the fourth quarter.
The Cougars had the game wrapped up by halftime, but head coach Art Briles wasn’t ready to call it a game just yet.
"We’ve been through the wars and we haven’t been able to relax," Briles said. "At halftime, I think it was 35-10, we were in there saying we got to do this and we got to do that… because we did not feel comfortable one bit."
Houston knew coming into this game that they needed to stop giving up the big passing plays by the opposing team, but in the first half the Cougars gave up two passes that went for 68 and 54 yards.
In the second half, the longest pass was for 21 yards, and it seemed like the Cougars clamped down in the secondary.
"If someone’s going to throw the ball 34 times, then hitting (two)-out-of-24 for 40 to 60 yards is not that uncommon, and it’s not something you want," Briles said. "We changed up our scheme a little bit, brought a little more pressure put our guys a little more in man situations, so we take a chance in that happening."
The Cougars allowed only 26 yards on the ground on 18 carries. The front four for Houston attacked the line of scrimmage with what Briles called an outstanding effort.
"That’s one of the things, when we won the conference championship last year our defense is the one that propelled us to our run, so what we’re doing now is we’re trying to get on a conference run," Briles said. "We got a tough game next week at (Texas-El Paso) and we’ll be ready to go."
Quarterbacks redshirt freshman Case Keenum and sophomore Blake Joseph got about the same number of snaps in the first half as Briles subbed Keenum and Joseph in and out of the game.
Keenum started the game and looked great early on. He finished 11-of-16 for 100 yards and a touchdown. Joseph came into the game to relieve Keenum and finished 10-of-18 for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Junior tight end Mark Hafner led the Cougars in receiving with five receptions for 66 yards, marking the first time since the season opener that senior wide receiver Donnie Avery did not led the team in receiving.
Houston displayed balance on the offensive side of the ball. The Cougars racked up 205 yards through the air and ate up 335 yards on the ground.
Senior running back Anthony Alridge looked great in the two and a half quarters that he played. Alridge compiled 111 yards on the ground on 17 carries and scored twice.
Alridge was relieved by redshirt freshmen running backs Andre Kohn and Terrance Ganaway.
Kohn and Ganaway combined for 143 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns, while freshman wide receiver L.J. Castile got his first snaps under center at the end of the game.
"It was fun watching (the freshmen) play," senior defensive end Phillip Hunt said. "We talk about them all day in practice about them not getting any playing time, but once they get in there it’s a fun thing to watch. We cheer them on and hope they do their best."