The No. 18 Cougars have performed quite impressively in their last two games, but fans shouldn’t expect another blowout in next Saturday’s Conference USA championship game.
UH’s 73-14 throttling of Rice on Saturday and its 55-14 win over Memphis on Nov. 21 illustrated that this team may be about to reach its peak. But before fans declare the Cougars as 2009 C-USA Champions, they should take a closer look at who UH dominated: two of the conference’s three worst teams this season.
Despite winning two straight before facing UH, the Owls (2-10, 2-6) rarely showed that they could contend with C-USA’s best teams. Rice’s combined margin of victory in its two victories this year was only 9 points, but it lost by 20 or more on six occasions.
Memphis (2-10, 1-7), playing under a lame duck head coach for its final three games, dropped the last six contests of its season by an average of about 20 points per game.
The Cougars deserve credit for worrying about only what they needed to do to get into the Conference USA championship game. They blocked out potential distractions, focused on Memphis and Rice, respectively, and it worked well.
But if UH believes embarrassing two opponents that have a combined four wins proves that it will have no problems against East Carolina, it shouldn’t even board the flight out of Houston. That is, unless they know the Pirates (8-4, 7-1) will deliver one of the worst performances in college football history.
Fortunately for Cougars’ fans, head coach Kevin Sumlin is not going to let his players feel like heroes because they crushed inferior competition. He knows they can improve in several areas before they play the C-USA East Champions.
‘Any time you’re involved in any type of championship run, you’ve got to continue to get better,’ Sumlin said.
Although the Pirates’ players and coaches may not admit it, they will have revenge on their minds heading into next Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff.
Last season, East Carolina dropped a 41-24 decision to UH at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C. – the site of next Saturday’s game. This defeat not only cost the Pirates their national ranking, but also essentially ruined great out-of-conference wins over West Virginia and Virginia Tech.
But vengeance is only one factor. Next Saturday’s game will be mainly determined by coaching, execution, experience and talent.
The Pirates may not have the same athletes as Oklahoma State or Mississippi State, but their players are certainly capable of controlling the tempo against the Cougars.
Running back Dominique Lindsay is one of several Pirates who can keep the clock rolling and UH’s powerful offense off the field. This season, he is averaging about 131 rushing yards per game against C-USA West opponents.
Quarterback Patrick Pinkney (2,207 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) certainly isn’t Case Keenum, but he’s done something that Keenum hasn’t: lead his team to a C-USA title.
Pinkney completed only 10 of 24 pass attempts in last season’s C-USA championship game, but he did not throw an interception. Meanwhile, a 10-win Tulsa squad won almost every statistical category, but committed seven turnovers.
So is it surprising that East Carolina won? Pinkney and his teammates avoided mistakes and came out victorious, proving that statistics – and records – are sometimes meaningless.
Keenum could throw for 600 yards and four touchdowns next Saturday, but if he doesn’t manage the game properly, Pinkney’s experience will be the difference.
These teams have no reason not to be well prepared for the C-USA championship game. They know what to expect: a hard-fought battle that will probably produce a close result.
Maybe some of the fans who are predicting a blowout win for UH will now recognize that the Cougars haven’t played a team as good as East Carolina since they lost to Central Florida.
Predictions are supposed to be fun, but they don’t have to be foolish.