There were plenty of things to like about Houston's runaway victory over Texas-El Paso late last Friday night.
First, the Coogs notched their first conference win of the season, avenging last year's disappointing 41-58 loss to the Miners in the process.
Second, the Cougars played before their second-consecutive announced sellout of 32,119 fans at Robertson Stadium. There weren't that many people actually in the stadium, of course; a lot of people ended up not using their tickets due to the late kickoff so there were empty seats scattered about. But all the tickets for the game were still sold, the student section was still packed, and the Cougars are way ahead of where they've historically been in terms of fan support.
Third, the Cougar offense unveiled a much-needed and very effective ground game. Bryce Beall carried the ball 19 times for 195 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Michael Hayes added another 77 yards and 3 touchdowns on 17 carries of his own, and the Cougars gained an impressive 308 yards on the ground. This isn't to say that the Cougars abandoned their lethal passing attack - they gained another 348 yards through the air - but the balanced offense the Cougars unveiled Friday night simply gives opposing coaches something else to worry about. Coming off a season where the Cougars didn't always run the ball effectively - see the 46 total rushing yards against Central Florida or the 30 total rushing yards against ECU, for example - this is truly a positive.
With the good came the bad, however. Most notably, quarterback Case Keenum was taken out of the game in the third quarter after suffering a head injury while defending a runback of his only interception of the night. There were a few tense moments in the stadium as Keenum lay on the turf following the collision with another player, but he walked back to the bench under his own power and remained there for the remainder of the game. Keenum was 18-for-24 for 279 passing yards and no touchdown passes (why throw when the RBs were doing such a good job scoring on their own?). Second-string quarterback Cotton Turner performed ably as Keenum's replacement; he was 9-for-10 for 69 passing yards and a touchdown and led the offense to three scores.
Another disappointment was the fact that the Cougar defense did not get to try their hand at stopping the guy who lit them up for 262 rushing yards last season; Miner RB Donald Buckram was held out of the game with an injury. Without him, UTEP gained only 100 rushing yards against the Coogs. This probably had as much to do with the fact that the Miners fell behind early and had to play a hurry-up passing offense for most of the game as it did the fact that Buckram was out. UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe, who also gave the Coogs fits last year, put up impressive numbers Friday night: he was 30-for-54 for 340 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions. He also gained another 25 yards rushing and was only sacked once. But his work simply wasn't enough; although UTEP scored the game's first touchdown, the Cougar defense would not let the Miners find the endzone again until midway through the third quarter.
All in all, a good win for the Cougars. Keenum is now listed as day-to-day and there is no word yet if he will start next Saturday against UCLA. Hopefully he will be able to start as the 0-2 Bruins have more talent than their record indicates and are going to be tough to beat at the Rose Bowl. However, if Beall and Hayes can replicate last Friday's performance against a UCLA defense that gave up 211 rushing yards to Stanford, then it might not matter who starts behind center. We'll see.
As a result of the win, the Coogs enter both the AP and Coaches' polls at #23.
The Houston Press also has a good take on the game.