Offense establishes quick pace; defense still a work in progress
Though 11 more games remain on the schedule, the Cougars have cleared one of their biggest challenges.
No matter how often he was hurried by defenders, senior quarterback Case Keenum’s pocket presence was a pivotal reason why UH beat UCLA 38-34 on Saturday.
The Bruins gave him his fair share of hits, but were limited to one sack. Keenum completed 30 passes, threw just 10 incompletions and went over the 300-yard mark for the 26th time of his career.
The Cougars looked sharp ending the first half with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Keenum to receiver Tyron Carrier, on a two-play 64-yard possession that took only 27 seconds.
Timing was crucial since UCLA received the kickoff after halftime. It was a difference maker — the Cougars led 31-17 at the half, but the Bruins outscored UH 20-7 in the second half.
In retrospect, those points gave the Cougars breathing room.
“One of the advantages of our offense is that we don’t have to really practice the two-minute drill,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “We practice getting out of bounds and handing the ball back to the official, but basically that’s what we do all the time.
“We don’t have to change personnel or anything like that. Our guys can just look at the clock and figure out that we need to be moving fast.”
The Cougars showed glimpses of how dangerous the offense can be with their depth at running back.
Seniors Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes and junior Charles Sims combined for 131 rushing yards.
The trio was put on the field all at once during the first half for several snaps.
“We had all three of them out there, but we didn’t particularly run the ball the first six or seven plays,” Sumlin said. “Those guys are interchangeable and complement each other.
“If we get into an up-tempo style it puts some pressure on the defense. That’s something we’ve been working on since the spring.”
With three new starters on the offensive line, the run blocking and pass protection was enough to satisfy Sumlin.
“Our redshirt freshman offensive tackle and two new offensive linemen did a nice job against a talented front,” he said. “They did well with protection, and we were able to run the ball effectively.
“We didn’t run it down their throats, but we ran it well enough to where they couldn’t just sit back and play pass.”
It was not an all-out dominating performance from UH. The Bruins had several unforced errors, with 10 flags giving up 80 penalty yards.
The defense offered little resistance, surrendering 554 total yards. A significant stop happened when UCLA quarterback Richard Brehaut’s pass attempt to Johnathan Franklin fell incomplete on third-and-6, forcing a rare punt.
With 12:44 remaining, UH scored its last touchdown 3 minutes and 13 seconds later. The Bruins’ next possession ended with an errant 32-yard field goal from kicker Kip Smith.
The four-point margin of victory was not as close as it seemed. The Bruins touchdown with 1:19 left remaining was somewhat meaningless.
It was far from a shutdown performance on the defensive side, but the Cougars made timely plays.
“Numbers-wise, we’re probably not where we want to be,” Sumlin said. “We got off the field on third downs but we also killed ourselves sometimes. I think we’re still working.
“Our challenge is to have our guys come in and be honest with themselves in their assessment with where we are.”
UH will go from one of the most difficult games on its schedule to one of the least against North Texas.
The Mean Green (0-1) lost their first game to Florida International 41-16. In the past four seasons, North Texas has accumulated a 7-34 record.
But nothing is guaranteed. The Cougars still have to make the trip to Denton, and they will arrive with a bigger target on their backs than the previous week.