Home sweet home
The statistics were unspectacular, the execution far from perfect and the usual flare missing.
Nevertheless, the Cougars managed to piece together a solid performance against SMU.
Saturday’s 38-15 victory before a homecoming crowd of 26,889 at Robertson Stadium was the Cougars’ third consecutive winning decision and gave them a perfect 3-0 record at home. When the Associated Press released its latest poll Sunday, UH (6-1, 2-1 Conference USA) had moved up two spots to No. 15, its second-highest ranking of the season.
More importantly, the Cougars moved into a four-way tie with SMU (3-4, 2-1), UTEP and Tulsa for first-place in the C-USA West Division.
Still, it was a somewhat lackluster win over SMU. The Cougars were held to 394 offensive yards, easily their lowest output of the season. They jumped out to a 24-3 first-half lead, but scored only one offensive touchdown in the second half. UH’s high-flying passing attack was grounded.
The Cougars’ defense, however, forced three turnovers, recorded five sacks and kept the Mustangs 0-for-10 on third-down attempts. It provided enough opportunities to allow the Cougars to hold on for the win.
‘By no means were we perfect tonight,’ UH head coach Kevin Sumlin said. ‘There were some plays where we didn’t know what we were doing. We made enough big plays particularly on defense to win the game.
‘It’s like I said two or three weeks ago: It’s about being opportunistic. You can create a turnover, but being opportunistic means you are able to score off of those turnovers. If we continue to do that, we will be able to win a lot of ball games, even ugly ones like tonight.’
The offense, though unspectacular, played a clean game, committing zero turnovers for the second consecutive game. The Cougars also converted nine of 16 third-down attempts and scored on all five of their trips to the red zone.
Quarterback Case Keenum (25-of-36 passing, 233 yards, one touchdown) got the Cougars going on their second possession by leading a six-play, 55-yard drive that ended with running back Charles Sims’ 20-yard touchdown run for the game’s first score. ‘
The defense produced a huge turnover when defensive end Tyrell Graham popped SMU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell for a sack and forced a fumble at the Mustangs’ 1-yard line. Linebacker C.J. Cavness recovered the loose ball, while Mitchell suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder that kept him on the sidelines for the rest of the game.
On the next play, UH running back Bryce Beall scored on a 1-yard run to put the Cougars ahead 14-0 with 1:58 remaining in the first quarter.
The Cougars got a 22-yard field goal from Matt Hogan and a 7-yard touchdown pass from Keenum to Patrick Edwards in the second quarter and went into the locker room at halftime with a commanding 24-3 lead.
Ultimately, the Cougars finished with one more rushing play (37) than passes. The Mustangs brought a lot of pressure and sacked Keenum four times, forcing UH to rely more on the prowess of Sims (105 yards, two touchdowns) and Beall (61 yards, one touchdown).
‘They were doing a good job at keeping us from throwing the ball,’ said Keenum, who failed to throw for at least 300 yards for the first time this season. ‘They have a really good secondary, but their passing defense opened up the rushing yards for us. We have a few really good running backs that I really don’t mind handing the ball off too. The offensive line did a great job of blocking. You have to take what the defense gives you.’
Wide receiver Tyron Carrier took some of the life out of SMU’s hopes with a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half. The Cougars’ defense took care of the rest, preventing SMU’s backup quarterback duo of Kyle Padron (11-of-16 passing, 141 yards, one touchdown) and Braden Smith (2-of-5, 19 yards) from being much of a threat.
With the crowd providing a lively atmosphere, the Cougars had little trouble locking in on the task at hand.
‘I think we were feeding off the crowd’s energy,’ Cavness said. ‘I think we were all excited to play at home; it’s always fun to play at ‘The Rob.”
‘We had a good week of preparation and everyone was focused. We stayed focused and played hard.’