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Monday, October 2, 2023


ARMED FORCES BOWL: Falcons run over Cougars

‘ FORT WORTH – It’s settled: great defense beats great offense.

At least, that was the case in the 2009 Armed Forces Bowl.

The Cougars’ top-ranked passing offense was no match for Air Force’s No. 1 passing defense, which intercepted’ an Armed Forces Bowl-record six passes en route to a 47-20 victory over UH on Thursday at Amon G. Carter Stadium.

Davey O’Brien Award-finalist Case Keenum wasn’t his usual self in front of the crowd of 41,414, finishing 24-of-41 for222 yards, one touchdown and’ a career-high six picks. The junior quarterback’ and his teammates struggled to control the tempo or gain any rhythm, as they compiled a season-low’ 331 total yards and 20 points.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin defended Keenum after the game, citing tipped passes and lack of hustle as reasons for some of the interceptions.

‘They have the No.’ 1 pass defense in the country and showed it today,” Sumlin said.’ ‘Obviously, we were a little off, but they had a lot to do with that.

‘You (pick off) those tipped balls by playing hard. (Keenum’s) a damn good player, has been and will continue to be.’

But it wasn’t just UH’s offense that was dismantled.

The Cougars (10-4) allowed’ 563′ total yards,’ 402 of which came on the’ ground. Almost every player on the defensive side missed’ multiple tackles, while the defensive line was manhandled by a much stronger Air Force (8-5) offensive line.

The Falcons’ potent rushing attack, which was averaging 273.6 yards per game entering Thursday, was an integral part of their success against UH. A steady diet of Jared Tew (173 rushing yards), Asher Clark (130 rushing yards)’ and Jonathan Warzeka (255 all-purpose yards) chewed up tons of clock and kept UH’s explosive offense off the field for most of the game.

Sumlin said the Falcons’ ability to take the ball away and win the time of possession battle (41:03-18:57) led to the Cougars’ woes.

‘This loss was turnover related and not getting off the field on third down,’ Sumlin said. ‘We didn’t make the big plays on third down, and I’ll have to look at the tape to evaluate other mistakes.

The biggest example of Sumlin’s critique occurred when Air Force put the game away with an 18-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 7:30.

During this possession, the Falcons converted three third downs and two fourth’ downs. That’ includes’ quarterback Tim Jefferson’s 1-yard keeper on a fourth-and-goal play, which gave the Falcons a 41-20 lead with 14:05 remaining in the game.

The disappointment could be seen on the faces of UH’s seniors, most of whom finished their collegiate careers with a 1-3 record in bowl games.

‘We just let them do whatever they wanted to us,’ senior cornerback Brandon Brinkley said. ‘I have no clue (why the focus wasn’t there). I guess people (were) trying to do too much and not doing their own job.’

Sumlin said he apologized to’ his seniors’ after the game for ‘the way this (season) ended up.’

‘I appreciate everything they’ve done at the University of Houston,” Sumlin said. ‘To win 10 games has a lot to do with your senior leadership.

‘I wish things had turned out differently for them today, but that doesn’t’ take away from’ everything that they accomplished’ this year.’

The Cougars entered the third quarter trailing 24-6, but they quickly trimmed that deficit. Tyron Carrier returned the opening kick of the second half 79 yards for a touchdown to cut the Falcons’ lead to 24-13 with 14:47 left in the third.

That marked the fourth kickoff return for a touchdown’ of the season for the sophomore receiver. In the first half, he became the first Cougar to record 1,000 receiving yards in consecutive seasons since Elmo Wright’ did so in’ 1968-69.

Air Force’s special teams immediately fired back, as Warzeka returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards – the longest kickoff return in Armed Forces Bowl history – to give the Falcons a 31-13 lead with 14:29 remaining in the third.

This big play did not demoralize the Cougars, who cut their deficit to 31-20 when Keenum connected with Patrick Edwards for a 10-yard touchdown with 12:48 remaining in the third.

The Falcons pushed their lead to 34-20 when Erik Soderberg made a 27-yard field goal with 7:27 left in the third.

The Cougars started the game in weak fashion, as turnovers and poor tackling created an early deficit.

On the opening possession of the game, Air Force engineered a six-play, 69-yard drive to take an early lead. Asher Clark capped the drive with a 36-yard rushing touchdown, giving the Falcons a 7-0′ advantage with 12:38 left in the first quarter.

Later in the first, Air Force took advantage of a Keenum interception, which bounced off receiver James Cleveland and into the hands of defensive back Anthony Wright Jr. Six plays later, Tew scampered into the end zone from six yards out to put the Falcons ahead 14-0 with 8:52 remaining in the opening period.

The Cougars got on the scoreboard when Matt Hogan nailed a 33-yard field goal that cut UH’s deficit to 14-3 with 14:51 left in the second quarter.

But Air Force’s offense was far from finished.

The Falcons answered with an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended in Clark’s 23-yard touchdown dash. The score, which occurred on a fourth-and-3 play, gave Air Force a 21-3 lead with 8:55 remaining before halftime.

Keenum threw his third interception of the first half on the Cougars’ next possession, giving Air Force excellent field position. But the Falcons’ offense failed to take advantage, as Soderberg missed a 35 yard field goal.

UH crept within 21-6 on Matt Hogan’s 33-yard field goal with 1:21 left in the second.

This left Air Force’s offense with just enough time to counter. Soderberg connected on a 27-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to send the Falcons into halftime leading 24-6.

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