Cougars fight, but come up short against Alabama
For the second straight week, the game’s outcome rested on Houston’s final play.
And similar to last week, the Cougars came up empty-handed.
Houston trailed by six and faced a fourth-and-3 at the Alabama 15-yard line, but redshirt freshman quarterback Case Keenum had a desperation end zone pass intercepted by Alabama senior cornerback Simeon Castille as time expired.
Keenum’s interception allowed Alabama to slip away with a 30-24 win before a homecoming crowd of 92,138 on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa Ala.
Much in the same way it did in a 37-35 loss to East Carolina on Sept. 29, the Cougars defense made big plays late in the game that gave the offense a chance to take the lead. Houston, however, could not convert those plays into points.
The Cougars (2-3) forced Alabama to punt seven times, one coming after a critical stop in the fourth quarter that allowed Houston to regain possession at its 27-yard line with 5:39 left in the game.
The drive stalled after Keenum was intercepted by Alabama junior safety Rashad Johnson.
However, Cougars sophomore safety Brandon Brinkley intercepted junior Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson (15-of-27, 157 yards, 2 TDs, 1 rushing TD) and Houston regained possession at its 39 with 2:56 left to play.
The Cougars quickly moved down the field to the Alabama 15, but were unable to score in the red zone.
Alabama (4-2) dominated the game early on, scoring three touchdowns and a safety in the first quarter to put the Cougars at a 23-0 disadvantage.
"We dug ourselves in a hole in the first half and fought hard to get out of it," Cougars head coach Art Briles said. "After the first quarter was over, we said we were acting like it’s 0-0 and the game’s just starting."
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Blake Joseph (9-of-20, 125 yards, 1 TD) gave the Cougars their first points with a 68-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Donnie Avery in the second quarter.
Houston outscored Alabama 14-0 in the fourth quarter, thanks largely to Keenum, who replaced Joseph, the starter, with 6:35 left in the third quarter after the latter was shaken up by a hard hit.
Keenum finished 11-of-17 for 132 yards and a touchdown against two interceptions. He also rushed for 34 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
"I was rolling on the sideline and some guys hit me, and I got up and couldn’t see for a minute so Case came in and did a great job," Joseph said.
Briles sees this as one of the advantages of having two quarterbacks.
"We’re fortunate to have two guys that can play. I’ve said that from day one," Briles said. "Everybody wants to say controversy, but I say complement. They complement each other. It’s a good thing for our team."
Still, two quarterbacks and a stellar defensive performance in the fourth quarter were not enough to prevent Houston from dropping its second game in a row.
Briles, however, is ready to put the loss behind him and start preparing for Saturday’s game against Rice at Robertson Stadium.
"We may be hurt, but we ain’t asking for help," Briles said. "We’re a tough football team. We’re from a tough town. Houston is not a calm, country town. We’ve got tough people. We’re all about winning. We’ve got to re-focus, let it go."