FOOTBALL: UH obliterates Owls, 73-14
A mercy rule may’ been appropriate for this year’s Bayou Bucket Classic.
The No. 25 Cougars coupled a school-record 59 first-half points with a dose of stiff defense to cruise to a 73-14 victory over Rice in front of a crowd of 28,243 at Robertson Stadium.
Saturday’s win not only allows UH (10-2, 6-2) to reclaim bragging rights in the crosstown rivalry, but also places it in next week’s Conference USA championship game.
‘(Winning our division) was one of our primary goals,’ head coach Kevin Sumlin said. ‘You’ve got to start with that to accomplish any major goals.’
The C-USA West champion Cougars will match up with East Carolina, which claimed the C-USA East crown after defeating Southern Miss, 25-20, on Saturday.
The conference title contest will be held at 11 a.m. next Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C. The Pirates (8-4, 7-1) will host this game because they have a better record against conference opponents this season.
This marks the first West Division title for head coach Kevin Sumlin, whose team missed the C-USA title game because of a loss to Rice in last year’s regular-season finale. Although UH was playing for a spot in the C-USA championship, last season’s defeat was all the motivation that it needed.
‘Getting the bucket back is all we talked about this week,’ Sumlin said. ‘That was where our focus was.’
The win over the Owls also gives Sumlin his second straight undefeated season at Robertson Stadium. UH has not lost a game at their home stadium since it fell to East Carolina in 2007.
The nation’s top offense continued to roll against a Rice (2-10, 2-6) defense that was a step too slow for much of the game.
In the first half, the Cougars’ offense gained 465 total yards, converted four of six third-down attempts and scored on all five of its trips to the red zone. By the time most of the offensive starters were removed, UH had accumulated its highest point total since defeating SMU, 95-21, on Oct. 21, 1989.
Saturday was also a successful day for the Cougars’ starting quarterback and running back.
Despite playing only two quarters because of the blowout, dark horse Heisman-Trophy candidate Case Keenum delivered another stellar performance. The junior quarterback not completed 25 of 31 pass attempts for 323 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for a 1-yard score.
Backup quarterback Cotton Turner (8-of-10 for 112 yards and one touchdown) replaced Keenum at the beginning of the third quarter and led the Cougars on two scoring drives.
Running back Charles Sims, who also did not play in the second half because of the blowout, carried the ball 12 times for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
UH’s offense may not have been able to build such a huge lead had its defense not kept the Owls’ offense in check for the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s game.
In the first half, Rice only earned five first downs and converted zero of eight third-down attempts. The Owls did gain 144 total yards before the break, but the Cougars intercepted three passes to squash potential momentum swings.
Cornerback Brandon Brinkley intercepted a pass from Rice quarterback Nick Fanuzi on a pick-6 play in the first quarter. In the second quarter, cornerback Jamal Robinson picked off two passes to end consecutive Owl possessions.
Despite putting together its most complete performance of the season, head coach Kevin Sumlin knows his team is far from satisfied.
‘Our team has played pretty well the last couple of weeks,’ Sumlin said. ‘With any championship run, (however), you have to continue to get better.’
Tyron Carrier got the Cougars off to a fast start when he took the opening kick 99 yards for a touchdown. The sophomore’s third kickoff return touchdown of this season (fourth of his career) put UH up 7-0 with 14:45 left in the first quarter.
This was a harbinger of what followed, as Rice was unable to create any momentum during the remainder of the first half.
The Cougars stretched their lead to 14-0 when Keenum scrambled into the end zone from 1 yard out with 10:10 remaining in the opening quarter.
Rice’s offensive woes continued when Fanuzi threw an interception to Brinkley, who returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. After he pick, the senior broke a couple of tackles and juked his way to the end zone to give UH a 21-0 lead with 8:43 left in the first.
On their next possession, the Cougars extended their lead to 24-0 when Matt Hogan nailed a 22-yard field goal with 3:26 remaining in the first.
UH continued its offensive assault in the second quarter, as Sims’ 5-yard rushing touchdown gave the Cougars a 31-0 advantage with 14:18 left in the second quarter.
The lead grew to 38-0 on UH’s next offensive drive, as Keenum connected with Patrick Edwards on a 39-yard touchdown with 10:43 remaining before halftime.
On their next possession, the Cougars opened their bag of tricks to help Carrier score his first career rushing touchdown.
On a second-and-5 play from Rice’s 37-yard-line, Keenum faked a throw before tossing the ball behind his back to Carrier. Then, the sophomore wideout jetted past the Owls’ secondary and into the end zone, giving his team a 45-0 advantage with 7:39 left before the break.
UH scored two more touchdowns in the final five minutes of the second quarter to take a 59-0 lead into halftime.