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Saturday, September 30, 2023


Cougars set to meet UTEP, begin conference slate

Senior quarterback Case Keenum and the Cougars will have their 4-0 record at stake against the Miners today. UH has won two of its last three meetings against UTEP. | Rebekah Stearns/The Daily Cougar

Senior quarterback Case Keenum and the Cougars will have their 4-0 record at stake against the Miners today. UH has won two of its last three meetings against UTEP. | Rebekah Stearns/The Daily Cougar

Whether it be athletes or the media, sometimes both can have a short memory.

It seems the Cougars’ convincing 30-point UH win against UTEP last season at Robertson Stadium has been forgotten. At UH’s weekly press conference, a repeated question was the Cougars’ loss to the Miners in 2009 at the Sun Bowl in El Paso.

UH was 3-0 and ranked No. 12 before a 58-41 loss to UTEP dropped them out of the rankings.

When head coach Kevin Sumlin was asked if the loss two years ago is brought up any more, he offered few words.

“A little bit,” he said.

While the memory is still there, the Cougars (4-0) have a much different look than they once did.

“A lot of the guys that are going down there this time remember that time,” senior quarterback Case Keenum said. “They remember the stadium and remember what it felt like. That will probably be in the back of our minds, but it definitely won’t be the most important thing.

“We all know this is two different teams and two totally different situations.”

It was just five days ago UH beat Georgia State 56-0. After the plane trip to El Paso yesterday and the game today, the Cougars have had an expedited week to get ready for the Miners.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve played every day except Sunday and Monday,” Sumlin said. “It’s more than just a one-day difference. Instead of traveling Friday, we are on Wednesday so we are actually missing a couple days of preparation.

“You want your guys to be fresh and you see that the team that is the most excited has a better chance of winning right off the bat. There is a fine line; we have some veteran players that understand that and some new guys and junior college guys that have not been through that.”

Making the look of this game easier is that the Miners lost 25 seniors from last season’s roster. One of those players the Miners no longer have the services of is quarterback Trevor Vittatoe.

“It seemed like that guy was never going to leave,” Sumlin said. “I am so glad that guy isn’t playing on Thursday. He was hard to prepare for, he was two or three different quarterbacks. You didn’t know what the hell you were going to get.

“He could drop back and throw it, scramble all over the place or just run it himself.”

The Miners are led by eighth-year head coach Mike Price. He was a central figure in the start Sumlin’s coaching career, giving him his first coaching position as a graduate assistant at Washington State from 1989-1990.

UTEP (2-2, 0-1 Conference USA) lost its last game 52-24 against South Florida, but won its previous game against New Mexico State 16-10.

An early rash of injuries could be to blame for the Miners’ mediocre start. Many of those players are expected to make their return against the Cougars.

“Just knowing Mike, I expect all the guys that didn’t play last week to play in this week’s game,” Sumlin said.

“The guys that are listed as injured, we are preparing for them to play too. Mike will do anything and that’s how he has always been.”

Staying low key

Keenum is surpassing other players en route to shattering several of college football’s passing records, and UH is on the brink of inclusion into the AP Top 25 and the USA Today/Coaches Poll.

There was plenty of preseason hype, but for now the Cougars feel as if they’re keeping a low profile.

“He (Keenum) kind of mirrors our football team right now in the fact that we’re just kind of humming along here,” Sumlin said. “Nobody’s really talking about us or him that much.

“That’s fine, because we’ve seen some highs and lows. It’s kind of to our advantage as a football team that we’re not really being talked about a lot.”

The game is set to start at 7 p.m. today in El Paso, and will be televised on CBS Sports Network. It will also be broadcast on 790 AM.

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