Cougars cruise to 55-14 win over Memphis
EDITOR’S NOTE: SMU lost to Marshall, 34-31. UH now controls its destiny in the Conference USA West Division. A win over Rice next Saturday will give the Cougars a berth in the C-USA championship game.
UH’s first play from scrimmage against Memphis spelled disaster, as a bad snap caused the No. 24 Cougars to lose 14 yards. But that was about as bad as it would get for UH on Saturday.
The Cougars put together one of their best performances of the season en route to a 55-14 win over Memphis in front of an underwhelming crowd of 22,036 at Robertson Stadium.
After the game, head coach Kevin Sumlin said his team gave ‘as good an effort as (they’ve) had all season.’
‘I thought we came out and had intensity from the beginning,’ Sumlin said. ‘Our guys responded well coming off last week(‘s 37-32 loss to Central Florida).’
UH’s No. 1 receiver, James Cleveland, and running back Bryce Beall did not play, but that did not prevent the Cougars (9-2, 5-2 Conference USA) from scoring on the Tigers (2-9, 1-6) at will. UH compiled 689 yards of total offense while converting all seven of its red-zone scoring chances.
‘It was nice to be able to execute (that well),’ quarterback Case Keenum said. ‘We kept it rolling from the beginning.’
This was also a successful day for UH’s defense, which held Memphis to 344 yards of total offense. The Tigers’ converted only six of 15 third-down attempts and drove into Cougars’ territory only twice in the first three quarters.
After allowing Central Florida to go seven-for-15 on third-down conversions last week, Sumlin was happy to see his defense have more success in this area against Memphis.
‘Our defense got off the field on third down, which we didn’t do a week ago,’ Sumlin said. ‘We got extra possessions for our offense.’
Saturday’s victory keeps the Cougars in contention for the C-USA West Division title, but they still need SMU (6-4, 5-1) to lose at least one of its two remaining games to earn a spot in the conference championship game. The Mustangs will square off against Marshall at 3:30 p.m. today.
UH took a 7-0 lead on the game’s first possession, as Keenum threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to receiver L.J. Castile with 12:44 left in the opening quarter.
On the Cougars’ next drive, running back Charles Sims barreled into the end zone from 13 yards out to give UH a 14-0 advantage with 10:11 remaining in the first.
The Cougars upped their lead to 21-0 when Keenum connected with Tim Monroe on a 9-yard touchdown with 6:50 left in the first. This marked UH’s third consecutive scoring drive to open the game, but Memphis’ offense finally woke up on its next possession.
The Tigers used a nine-play, 65-yard drive, capped by Curtis Steele’s 2-yard rushing touchdown, to trim their deficit to 21-7 with 2:27 remaining in the opening quarter.
But the Cougars regained control of the game at the same time that Keenum broke a school record.
The junior’s 4-yard touchdown toss to Chaz Rodriguez not only gave his team a 28-7 lead with 10:10 left in the second quarter, but also made him UH’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes with 92. David Klingler, who threw 91 in his days as a Cougar, previously held the record.
Keenum continued his stellar performance with a 57-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Edwards on UH’s next possession. Edwards simply used his speed to jet past Memphis’ secondary, while Keenum threw a perfect pass to put the Cougars up 35-7 with 6:52 remaining before halftime.
The Tigers quickly answered, as Steele scampered into the end zone from 25 yards out to cut Memphis’ deficit to 35-14 with 2:38 left in the second.
But 2:38 proved to be more than enough time for the potent UH offense to respond.
A 5-yard rushing touchdown by Sims capped an 8-play, 73-yard drive and gave the Cougars a 42-14 advantage with 40 seconds left before the break.
The Cougars’ offense gained 443 yards of total offense in the first half. Keenum completed 26 of 35 pass attempts for 377 yards and four touchdowns, while Sims rushed the ball 14 times for 80 yards and two scores.
Memphis had only 188 total yards at halftime and converted only three of seven third-down attempts in the first half.
UH’s offensive onslaught continued in the second half, as Keenum threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Castile to push the Cougars’ lead to 49-14 with 11:05 remaining in the third quarter.
With the game well in hand, backup quarterback Cotton Turner replaced Keenum on UH’s next possession. Keenum completed 29 of his 39 pass attempts for 405 yards and five touchdowns.
Although Keenum’s day was done, the Cougars’ offense was not.
In his first action since the season opener, Turner engineered a 10-play, 83-yard scoring drive, capped by his 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Fendi Onobun. This gave UH a 55-14 lead with 5:38 left in the third.