Saturday will make C-USA West champ
Everything the UH football team has been working for all year will come down to Saturday’s regular-season finale as the Cougars battle the Rice Owls for the Bayou Bucket – and that’s just fine with head coach Kevin Sumlin.
"There’s a lot of discussion about when the game (against Rice) should be. I think the game being the last game of the year is what a rivalry should be," Sumlin said. "We have the city championship coming up next week. I think it’s great for the city of Houston. I think it’s great for both universities."
The Cougars and Owls are locked with Tulsa in a three-way tie for first place in the Conference USA West division. Because Houston defeated Tulsa when the teams met on Nov. 15, a UH win on Saturday will send Houston to the Championship game on Dec. 6, but an Owl victory combined with a Tulsa loss would give Rice the championship berth.
If both Rice and Tulsa win on Saturday, Tulsa will represent the West because the Golden Hurricane defeated the Owls 63-28 in Oklahoma on Oct 4.
"We’re playing to extend the season as long as we can. It’s really a playoff-type situation," Sumlin said.
Rice senior quarterback Chase Clement and his receiving corps of senior wide receiver Jarett Dillard and sophomore tight end James Casey have led the Owls (8-3, 6-1 C-USA) on a five-game win streak after a 3-3 start to the season.
"It’s pretty well-established, the nucleus of three great players," Sumlin said.
Clement ranks sixth nationally with 3,431 total passing yards and has thrown 36 touchdown passes this season. Casey has caught nine passes in the end zone and is tied for second in the nation with 92 catches on the season while Dillard ranks fifth nationally with an average of 107.36 receiving yards a game.
"I don’t know that you can ever just completely shut down players of that caliber. We’ve just got to contain (Clement) and be opportunistic on offense," Sumlin said.
The Cougars didn’t take advantage of all those opportunities in Saturday’s 42-37 win over Texas-El Paso, needing a 26-point fourth quarter to overcome the largest deficit in UH history.
Sophomore quarterback Case Keenum sealed the win with a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 41 seconds left in the game. Keenum was named the C-USA Co-Offesive Player of the Week for the second consecutive week and third time this season on Monday after throwing for 481 yards and three touchdowns on 41-of-51 passing against the Miners.
Houston has won its last three games against Rice, but the Owls are coming off five straight wins, mostly recently a 35-10 victory over Marshall on Saturday. Keenum has been around long enough to know that anything can happen in the rivalry game.
"We are 3-0 in our four-game season. We are looking forward to this next week," Keenum said. "Playing Rice is always a big game. Every year you can expect it to be a big game."
The Cougars will fight to keep possession of the Bayou Bucket trophy and earn a ticket to the C-USA Championship for the second time in three years in their matchup with Rice at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Rice Stadium.