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Wednesday, October 4, 2023


New offense to test Keenum’s ability

The Cougars’ season-opener against Southern will give rookie head coach Kevin Sumlin an opportunity to pen the first chapter of his tenure at UH.

Perhaps sophomore quarterback Case Keenum will take this chance to add another chapter to the novel he started last season.

Keenum had fans clamoring for more after his debut last season. He led the Cougars in passing with 2,259 yards and 14 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, completing 68.5 percent of his attempts. He rushed for 412 yards and nine scores. He helped the Cougars finish 8-5 and was named Conference USA Freshman of the Year.

Better yet, he did it all while splitting time with junior quarterback Blake Joseph for more than half of the season. The two were locked into a quarterback battle that started during fall camp and didn’t end until late in the season when Keenum took over for good. For most of the season, neither knew who was going to start until the day of the game.

Don’t look for that uncertainty this time around. Keenum knows he’ll be the man behind center after Sumlin named him the starter on Aug. 17. Unless Keenum struggles early on or gets hurt, he’ll remain the starter for the rest of the season.

But the critics say…

Now that the quarterback battle has ended, Keenum can go about his business of preparing to lead the Cougars against Southern.

Also, there’s this business of proving critics wrong. Although Keenum wowed the crowds with his scrambling and sharp decision-making last season, there are some who still think he isn’t the man for the job.

A lot of that has to do with the change in offenses. Keenum had few problems running former head coach Art Briles’ rinky-dink offense, which always seemed as if it operated without a playbook.

But when Sumlin and new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen arrived on campus, they brought a version of Texas Tech’s high-octane offense with them. The early consensus was that Joseph, who has the strongest arm of the two quarterbacks, would be a better fit.

The knock on Keenum was that his average arm would hinder the Cougars’ new passing attack. Too often last season, wide receivers, including speedster Donnie Avery, would have to either come back or wait for Keenum’s passes on deep routes, giving defenders time to catch up.

Keenum could move the ball, but his struggles to hit receivers in stride sometimes stalled the Cougars’ deep passing attack.

But it takes more than a strong arm to make a successful quarterback. Pocket presence, mobility, decision-making skills, accuracy and leadership are other ingredients that go into the recipe, and Keenum appears to have them all.

Defining season for Keenum

Chances are, Keenum’s detractors will point out his flaws until the cows come home. The only thing Keenum can do is keep on playing his game and trying to improve his weaknesses.

Another C-USA championship? A C-USA Offensive Player of the Year award? Leading the Cougars to their first bowl victory since 1980? Those would be nice chapters in Keenum’s novel.

Maybe Keenum will write one of more of these chapters this season. Maybe he’ll write none.

In any case, he’ll have pen in hand Saturday.

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