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Thursday, September 28, 2023


Cougars ride Green Wave

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No dramatic second-half comeback was needed this time.

The Cougars got off to a quick start against Tulane, and rarely took their foot off the gas pedal in Saturday’s 42-14 win before a homecoming crowd of 23,522 at Robertson Stadium.

The Cougars (5-4, 4-1 Conference USA) are now only one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the fifth time in the last six seasons. Houston also remains in the thick of the race for the C-USA Western Division crown heading into next weekend’s matchup against division leader Tulsa.

The game against Tulane, however, was hardly in doubt.

The Cougars took a 21-7 lead into the locker room at halftime and put the game away by scoring three more touchdowns in the third quarter. They finished the night with 693 total yards, 270 more than in a 37-23 loss to Marshall on Oct. 28.

The 21 first-half points were one more than the Cougars had scored in their last three first halves combined.

"We’re tired of people talking about (us needing) to come out fast," sophomore quarterback Case Keenum said. "I think we beat that horse to death."

Keenum contributed heavily to the offensive onslaught, throwing for 384 yards and four touchdowns. Freshman running back Bryce Beall rushed for a career-high 176 yards and scored three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving), and senior tight end Mark Hafner (11 catches, 91 yards), junior wide receiver Tim Monroe and sophomore wideout Chaz Rodriguez each caught a touchdown pass.

The defense also played a huge role, holding the Green Wave (2-7, 1-4 C-USA) to only 268 yards. Tulane scored its first touchdown with 10:03 remaining in the first quarter, but was held scoreless for the next 30:46.

"It felt alive tonight in the locker room before the game, and I had a feeling that we were going to finally going to get out the gates, and we did," said senior defensive tackle Tate Stewart, who had a sack against Tulane. "The defense had to hold fast a couple of times there in the first half with some bad situations, and the offense bounced right back, put tons of points on the board and made it real easy for us. It was a great team effort."

Despite the dominant performance, the Cougars had several hiccups. They committed 12 penalties for 143 yards and had three turnovers (two lost fumbles, one interception), which were too many for head coach Kevin Sumlin to stomach.

"We got in a situation where we have people that have not played, and we are counting on them," Sumlin said. "They have to understand the importance and the sense of urgency in a football game, particularly when it comes to penalties and turnovers. Those guys are held at the same standards as everyone else."

Fortunately for the Cougars, these mistakes wouldn’t affect the outcome.

Beall got the Cougars going with a 15-yard run in the first quarter. He later added a 19-yard touchdown reception from Keenum and a 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to increase the Cougars’ lead to 21-7. The two touchdown runs increased his season total to 10 and set a school single-season record for most rushing touchdowns by a freshman, breaking the mark of nine previously held by Keenum (2007) and former running back Jackie Battle (2003).

"We knew coming into this week we were going to be able to run the ball," said Beall, who had 124 rushing yards at halftime. "It just started from play one when we called a sweep. I just knew it was going to be a great night."

Keenum kept momentum on the Cougars’ side by hitting Rodriguez for a 38-yard touchdown pass with 13:31 left in the third quarter, upping the Cougars’ lead to 28-7. After two more touchdown passes, fans were quickly filing out of the stadium.

Tulane, however, had no such luck on offense. Sophomore quarterback Kevin Moore (12-of-27 passing, 142 yards) was ineffective, and was replaced by redshirt freshman Joe Kemp in the second quarter. Kemp, however, suffered a broken collarbone on a late hit by Cougars senior defensive end Phillip Hunt later in that quarter, and Moore returned. Senior Scott Elliott finished the game at quarterback.

The Cougars have regular-season games remaining against Tulsa, Texas-El Paso and Rice, all C-USA rivals. A sweep of this slate would give Houston the Western Division title and a spot in the C-USA championship game.

"We said coming in that we have a four-game season, and we started it off tonight with a win," Keenum said. "But, it continues next week with Tulsa coming here, and that’s going to be a good game. We’re all looking forward to it."

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