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Saturday, September 23, 2023


Cougars ready for return to Dallas

The last time Houston was at Gerald J. Ford Stadium, the Cougars were playing a game against Air Force relocated by Hurricane Ike.

This weekend, the Cougars (3-3, 2-0 C-USA) and sophomore quarterback Case Keenum will take their nationally second-ranked passing offense on the road to Dallas to face Southern Methodist University (1-6, 0-4 C-USA) on Saturday.

"It should be a pretty explosive game," said Keenum, who was named the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week on Tuesday. "It is supposed to be fun for everyone."

Keenum has thrown for at least 300 yards in every game this season and looks to continue his streak against the Mustangs, who have the second-lowest pass defense in the conference.

Alabama-Birmingham slipped into the last position after Keenum threw for 360 yards against the Blazers on Oct. 9.

"I have guys that made great runs after the catch with great blocks," Keenum said.

Keenum has completed 21 touchdown passes and five interceptions on the season and has had defenses at his mercy through the spread offense he masterfully controls.

Both the Cougars and Mustangs like to create offense in the air, and although UH head coach Kevin Sumlin said the two teams have different approaches to the spread, he has a high opinion of SMU head coach June Jones.

"The spread that everyone runs is not the spread that everyone runs. They all have different variations," Sumlin said. "I have always had a lot of respect for June Jones. This guy has a system and he believes in it, and it’s a proven system for him."

SMU freshman quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell will lead the Mustang’s No. 11-ranked offense against the Cougars, along with junior wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and sophomore receiver Aldrick Robinson. Both are averaging more than 100 receiving yards per game this season, and with Robinson getting nearly 20 yards per catch, he will be Mitchell’s go-to guy on deep routes.

Mitchell and the Mustangs are being asked to create points against a Cougar defense that ranks 56th nationally against the pass and C-USA’s Defensive Player of the Week, senior defensive lineman Phillip Hunt.

Hunt tied a career high with three sacks against UAB. Sumlin said Hunt’s discipline allows him to make plays even though opposing teams are creating schemes specifically to limit him.

"The hardest thing to do is play aggressively but be disciplined, especially with defensive linemen," he said. "We as coaches have to be more creative and scheme better than our opposition in order to free Hunt from some of the double teams and the sliding protection schemes."

In the past few weeks, freshman running back Bryce Beall has given the Cougar offense the balance it needs.

He leads the team with 452 yards on the season and four rushing touchdowns, and Sumlin said he must continue playing well for the Cougars to win games.

"His ability to make the tough yards and hold on to the ball is going to be the key to our success the rest of the year," he said.

The Cougars are coming off their second consecutive conference win while SMU is 0-4 in conference play, but Sumlin said the Mustangs’ record is a misleading judgment of their ability.

"Even though they lost last weekend, they have a sense of confidence, especially playing at home and playing (what was) considered the best team in (the) league and almost beating them last weekend. It will be a good test for us," he said.

The game will be broadcast on radio AM-KBME and live updates will be posted on Daily Cougar’s Web site. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday.

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