SILENT ASSASSIN: Blowout gives Sumlin opportunity to clear bench
Saturday’s 55-7 season-opening win over Northwestern State proved to be both a blessing and curse for many of UH’s underclassmen.
For some, such as true freshman running back Charles Sims (130 all-purpose yards, two touchdowns), it was mostly a blessing.
For others, it meant a rough launch into college football.
The Cougars started 11 underclassmen (three freshmen) against Northwestern State, counting special teams players. Several other underclassmen, including a slew of freshman defensive linemen, saw action in reserve roles.
With UH holding a 41-point lead for much of the third quarter, UH head coach Kevin Sumlin opted to gradually empty the bulk of his bench. The inexperience of the younger lineups showed, as the Cougars scored only two touchdowns in the second half.
It was far from a great performance by the bench, but Sumlin hopes this situation will improve with time.
‘There were a couple of guys out there getting baptized, and some of them didn’t like it,’ Sumlin said. ‘Things were happening fast, but we needed it. It was a learning experience for a lot of players.’
The Cougars will have to depend heavily on underclassmen this year because of little experienced depth. Unfortunately for UH, it can’t afford to wait much longer for the younger players to come around with challenging non-conference matchups looming against Big 12 powerhouses Oklahoma State (Saturday) and Texas Tech (Sept. 26).
The defensive line will have the most growing up to do. The Cougars started freshman defensive end Zeke Riser and sophomore defensive tackle David Hunter against the Demons, with three freshmen and a redshirt sophomore slated as backups for the four lineman positions.
‘I don’t know how many freshmen we played tonight,’ Sumlin said. ‘We probably played the majority of the freshman class we signed. All of the defensive linemen played.’
‘It was a good class we signed. They came in to help us. Because of our depth situation, we have to grow up in a hurry and play some meaningful games. The biggest thing we got out of tonight was meaningful minutes; a lot of those guys played almost a whole half of football.’
Sims carried the torch for the underclassmen, scoring his first career touchdown and the first points of the game on a 23-yard pass from junior quarterback Case Keenum with 11:34 left in the first quarter. Sims’ 1-yard touchdown run with 2:30 remaining in the first quarter gave the Cougars a commanding 28-0 lead.
Although no other underclassmen came close to matching Sims’ production, a few had noteworthy impacts.
Redshirt freshman running back Chris Wilson (70 all-purpose yards) spelled starter Bryce Beall in the second half. Sophomore reserve quarterback Cotton Turner lost a fumble on his second drive, but rebounded with a 7-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman receiver Ronnie Williams with 5:26 left in the game. Freshman backup linebacker Phillip Steward led the defense with 13 tackles (11 assisted), and Hunter finished with half a sack and five assisted tackles.
Keenum wasn’t surprised that several underclassmen made significant contributions.
‘When you take our first five skill-position starters off the field and bring in five more, there’s no drop-off in talent, intensity and focus,’ Keenum said. ‘Each player can pick up right where the last player left off.’