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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Football

A Case of awesomeness


Senior quarterback Case Keenum threw for 534 yards and nine touchdowns. The fifth touchdown made him the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns. The Cougars won 73-34 over Rice, and UH took back the Bayou Bucket. | Brianna Leigh Morrison/The Daily Cougar

 

The ball that quarterback Case Keenum threw his record-breaking 135th career touchdown pass with almost ended up as a hot commodity on eBay instead of in the hands of the Heisman hopeful.

“I was yelling at the official because they set it down and they were going to kick the extra point,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “We actually did kick that ball into the stands, but they threw it back.

“If the fans knew that was the ball, we wouldn’t have got it back. I was thinking, ‘Surely, you guys recognize what ball that is.’ But our fans, that was very, very nice of them. I’d like to thank them for giving that ball back.”

After the game, Keenum had no idea that the fans returned the ball.

“Did they really? That’s just our fans — they’re awesome,” Keenum said.

The feeling is mutual. It appears that UH fans think Keenum is pretty all right too.

He is in the midst of not just a great season, but an all-time great season.

The guy doesn’t make mistakes. He is allergic to turnovers. There are no hiccups in his game.

Keenum’s current quarterback rating of 194.1 would finish as the highest mark in the sport since 2000 — Ryan Dinwiddle, the current leader, finished with a 188.2 rating in 2002 for Boise State.

In just more than a 12-game schedule, not counting the likely Conference USA Championship game and bowl game, Keenum projects to finish with 48 touchdowns and five interceptions with 4,829 yards.

Since 2000, just four players have thrown 48 touchdown passes in a single season: Hawaii’s Colt Brennan, 58, 2006; Texas Tech’s B.J. Symons, 52, 2003; Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, 50, 2008; Graham Harrell, Texas Tech, 48, 2007.

If Keenum finishes with just five picks, Bradford would be the closest to him with eight, but Symons threw 22 interceptions during his 2003 campaign.

This season, the Cougars lead the NCAA in total yards, yards per play and points per game, while having possession of the ball for just an average of 24:33 per game, the fourth-lowest time of possession in the NCAA.

Keenum followed his six-touchdown performance against Marshall by throwing nine scoring strikes against the Owls to further build his case for the Heisman Trophy, and tilt the national spotlight in the direction of the Bayou City.

During the Tuesday press conference before the Cougar’s 63-28 win against Marshall, a reporter asked Keenum to talk about the prospect of breaking Timmy Chang’s all-time total offense records and his other individual accomplishments.

He balked at talking about himself. But when asked to talk about the importance of his teammates in reaching those records, he gushed.

“Extremely important,” Keenum said. “Just looking back at the guys that I’ve gotten to throw the ball to, that I’ve handed the ball off to over the past few years, it’s been a lot of different guys. Someone told me it was like 30 different receivers that I’ve completed passes to and over 20 of those guys have caught touchdown passes.

“I know for a fact — a lot of that is yards after the catch, too. That’s a lot of fast guys running around making people miss. Even going back to guys who have blocked for me — from those guys up front right now and guys from years past. It’s not a single person, any award that we get, it’s a team deal. That’s what’s really cool about this sport.”

Seven of Keenum’s nine touchdown passes against the Owls went to familiar faces Patrick Edwards, Tyron Carrier and Justin Johnson, who have all played with Keenum since 2008.

“They should hand out game balls to everybody after that game,” Keenum said.

Edwards and Carrier each caught a team-high seven passes, with Edwards setting career-highs in receiving yards (318) and touchdowns (five).

Edwards also tied Elmo Wright for the UH record for all-time receiving touchdowns.

Carrier said that he and Edwards were able to get free so easily because the Owls played man defense against them all game.

“If you play real close to us, we’ll run right by you,” Carrier said.

 

Big performance, long time coming for Carrier

Carrier had a record day himself, returning the game’s opening kickoff 100 yards for his seventh career score, tying him with former Clemson standout C.J. Spiller for the most all-time.

“It’s been a hard time,” Carrier said. “I think for about four weeks in a row, it was just that close — one block away.

“But as soon as I caught it and took a look, they got to a certain point where they stopped coming.”

 

Solid defense with a few blemishes

The Cougars struggled again with handling a running quarterback, as Rice utilized runs up the middle and the Wildcat formation effectively early, and also showed UH several different looks by rotating three quarterbacks throughout the game.

“We knew they were going to come out and run the read a lot,” linebacker Marcus McGraw said.

“At the beginning, we just tried to fit up the best we could and come on the sidelines and start making adjustments.”

The Cougars allowed 475 yards, but 164 of those came on flukey plays that should not have happened — a 67-yard touchdown catch by Tyler Smith and a 97-yard run by Smith from Rice’s own 3-yard line.

“Today was one of those days when we had a few get away from us,” McGraw said.

“We try to do the best we can to make adjustments on the sidelines.”

Maybe the Cougars’ defense isn’t as bad as it looks, though. They seem to play up or down to their competition or based on the importance of the moment.

Maybe the offense is just such an efficient machine with so few flaws that it magnifies the defense’s human mistakes.

Either way, this feels like a special Cougars squad that can hang with anyone.

“I feel like we’re a pretty special team,” Keenum said. “The cool thing is we’ve felt the same way since we started, since offseason workouts, then two-a-days, then first game, second game all the way through.

“Hopefully, it’s just other people’s minds that are changing. Our mindset’s been the same since day one. Hopefully we’re just changing other people’s minds about us.”

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