GAME NOTES: With or without their star quarterback, the 23rd-ranked Houston Cougars head to the Rose Bowl to take on the UCLA Bruins in a non-league tilt.
Houston is coming off a convincing 54-24 win over UTEP last Friday night. However, Cougars' starting quarterback Case Keenum was knocked out of the game in the third quarter with a head injury, and his availability is questionable for this weekend's showdown.
Keenum, last year's Conference USA MVP, was injured while trying to make a tackle following an interception late in the third quarter and was slow to get up. After the game, head coach Kevin Sumlin said Keenum was smiling in the locker room, though he didn't go into details about the injury.
"We'll evaluate it and see where he is," Sumlin said. "Right now, it's a situation where we put (backup) Cotton (Turner) in and he was able to do well and move the ball, there was no reason to do anything else. Cotton was 9- for-10 throwing the football. So we'll look at it this week and see where Case is."
On the other sideline, UCLA is winless after two games. The Bruins opened their season with a 31-22 loss at Kansas State, and then were blanked by 19th- ranked Stanford last Saturday, 35-0. It was their first time being shut out since a 59-0 drubbing at the hands of BYU early in the 2008 season. The schedule won't ease up for a few weeks, as UCLA follows up this contest at No. 6 Texas next weekend.
The head-to-head series between Houston and UCLA is tied at 2-2, although this marks the first meeting since 1998.
Even without their record-setting quarterback, the Cougars' offense hardly missed a beat as two backs combined for a staggering six touchdowns. Junior running back Bryce Beall earned C-USA Player of the Week honors for his career-best 195-yard, three-touchdown performance. Beall averaged a first down per carry (10.3 ypc).
Meanwhile, backfield mate Michael Hayes also scored three times and finished with 77 yards on 17 carries. Patrick Edwards headlined the receiving corps with six catches for 118 yards. And while backup Cotton Turner may not have Keenum's credentials, he certainly proved capable of running the offense, completing 9-of-10 passes for 69 yards and a TD. He'll approach the game as if he's the starter and is taking the first-team reps in practice this week.
The Houston defense didn't give up a lot of big plays, but UTEP's Trevor Vittatoe did manage 340 yards and three touchdowns passing. The Miners also converted 9-of-16 third downs and scored on four of their five red-zone trips, including three touchdowns. Granted, UTEP seldom has problems moving the football against most opponents. Still, there are areas for the Houston defense to improve.
The Cougars did spend plenty of time in the backfield, notching seven tackles for loss and forcing a couple of fumbles. In the secondary, they broke up 10 passes. Jamal Robinson paced the unit with nine tackles, while Matt Nicholson and Nick Saenz each had eight stops.
UCLA starting quarterback Kevin Prince had a brutal season opener, and an even worse encore last week. He completed only 6-of-12 passes for 39 yards and an interception before being replaced by Richard Brehaut, who didn't fare much better.
The Bruins committed four turnovers and generally sputtered along throughout the game. One of those turnovers was on a botched handoff by Prince, which was scooped up and returned the other way for a touchdown.
"Tonight was an offensive disaster," coach Rick Neuheisel said after the game. "There is no other way to say it. We've got to look ourselves in the mirror and fix it."
In addition to all the problems executing, a scary moment happened in the third quarter when running back Derrick Coleman was knocked unconscious and wheeled off the field on a stretcher after being down for several minutes. Coleman was later diagnosed with a mild concussion and a strained neck, and his status is up in the air for this weekend.
Defensively, UCLA was forced to work with a short field on a few occasions which led to some points for Stanford. The Cardinal scored on all five of its red-zone trips, including three touchdowns. Stanford also converted 9-of-16 third downs which resulted in a nearly 14-minute edge in time of possession. The Bruins weren't able to force any turnovers or sacks as they were forced to play on their heels for most of the contest. Sean Westgate led the way with 10 tackles, while three others each had seven stops. Look for a more aggressive scheme this week as the Bruins try to create some plays to help out their struggling offense.
If Keenum is out for any extended period of time, it would obviously be a huge blow for Houston. Still, the Cougars have plenty of weapons to put up points, and they should continue to do so this week against a porous UCLA squad.