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Thursday, September 28, 2023


UH upsets Tulsa

Saturday’s game was quite a different story than the 55-7 loss the Cougars endured at the hands of Tulsa in Oklahoma last year.

In front of 20,855 screaming fans, Houston pulled off an upset of Associated Press then-No. 25 Tulsa in a 70-30 rout of the Golden Hurricane at Robertson Stadium, earning its sixth win of the season to be bowl-eligible.

"We knew coming in we were talented, and it showed tonight. We just kept running on all cylinders tonight," sophomore quarterback Case Keenum said.

The Cougars (6-4, 5-1 C-USA) flexed their offensive muscles early in the game for the second week in a row, tallying 42 points in the first half and adding 28 in the last two quarters.

Keenum threw for 402 yards, connecting with four receivers for six touchdowns. He ended the night with seven touchdowns, including a six-yard quarterback sneak into the end zone in the fourth quarter.

Keenum’s six touchdown passes set a career high for the quarterback, who completed 24-of-37 passes with zero interceptions against Tulsa.

"Our guys were just getting open," Keenum said. "It was guys getting open and running fast on the field. It was a lot of fun out there tonight."

Keenum and the offense were backed by a defense that held the high-scoring Golden Hurricane (8-2, 5-1 C-USA), who averaged 52 points a game prior to Saturday, to 30 points against Houston. The Cougars held Tulsa to its second-lowest outing this season and forced five turnovers – two fumbles and three interceptions – to give the Houston offense plenty of breathing room.

"The defense stepped up tremendously tonight," Keenum said.

Sophomore cornerback Loyce Means was Houston’s main contributor, picking off Tulsa senior quarterback David Johnson three times and running one back 69 yards for a defensive touchdown in the third quarter.

"I read the three-step drop, and I knew the ball was going to come out quick and I got one," Means said. "That’s a great advantage. When we take the ball away and score, that’s a great momentum swing…. We took advantage of those opportunities tonight, and we got a win."

Tulsa’s opening drive in the game came to a screeching halt on a fake punt on fourth and 18. Tulsa sophomore punter Michael Such hurled the ball downfield, where Means intercepted the ball and drove it down to the Tulsa 36 yard line, getting the Houston crowd into the game early and giving the Cougars momentum.

Houston was the first to put points on the board when Keenum connected with redshirt freshman wide receiver Tyron Carrier with a quick four-yard touchdown pass that gave the Cougars an early lead they would never relinquish.

The Cougar defense shined again in Tulsa’s next possession as the Golden Hurricane drove to the Houston 6-yard line with a score in their sight.

But the Cougar defensive line held Tulsa to 5 yards in three plays. Tulsa went for it on fourth and goal, only to see momentum build for Houston as an incomplete pass ended the Hurricane’s drive.

The defense struck again on Tulsa’s next drive, forcing a fumble that bounced back into Houston hands. Seven plays later, Keenum and senior wide receiver Mark Hafner connected for a four-yard touchdown pass, jumping out to 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

"We had to keep scoring," Carrier said. "We had to stop them from scoring, and as soon as they scored, we would have to score quick because they might get a boost and have a comeback."

Tulsa recorded its first score in the second quarter after being shut out in the first with a 35-yard field goal by senior kicker Jarod Tracy, cutting its deficit by 3 points with 10:33 left in the half, but Houston was quick to answer with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Keenum to freshman running back Bryce Beall on the next drive.

Keenum would find Houston receivers in the end zone twice more before the half, determined not to let an opponent’s score go unmatched in the Cougars’ refusal to lose, capped off by a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Beall, resulting in the 42-17 halftime lead.

Keenum continued to find the end zone in the second half, passing to Hafner for his last touchdown pass of the game with 11:14 left in the third while sophomore running back Andre Kohn got on the board with a 13-yard touchdown run, helping to seal Houston’s lopsided victory.

The defense recovered two more turnovers from its opponents while its offense capitalized on the opportunity. With the victory, the Cougars became bowl-eligible and boosted themselves into C-USA championship contention.

"I couldn’t be prouder of our guys," Sumlin said.

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