Monday, November 02, 2009

#17 Houston 50, Southern Miss 43

Thirty-six seconds.

That's all it took for the University of Houston offense to score the game-winning touchdown against Southern Mississippi last Saturday.

In shouldn't have come down to that, of course. The Cougars were leading by a comfortable eighteen points early in the fourth quarter, but then the defense became complacent and that, along with an inopportune Cougar fumble, allowed the Golden Eagles to mount a furious fourth-quarter. USM tied the game with 57 seconds remaining and everybody in the stadium thought that overtime was in the works.

Everybody, that is, except for Case Keenum and the rest of the Cougar offense. With all three time outs at their disposal, The Cougars marched right back down the field to score with 21 seconds remaining. Southern Miss then got the ball back and attempted to tie it up, but USM QB Martevious Young's hail mary pass into the endzone was batted away and the Cougars held on to win, 50-43.

Keenum was his usual impressive self, completing 44 of 54 passes for 559 yards and five touchdowns. He was also intercepted once and sacked once, but still performed well enough to earn a helmet sticker from Lou Holtz on ESPN's College Football Final. The Cougars also gained another 191 yards on the ground for a whopping 750 yards of total offense. But the real story of the game came from the Cougar special teams, which blocked one USM field goal and two USM extra points, running one of them back for a two point conversion of its own. That equated to seven points that turned out to be the difference in the game.

With the good came the bad, however. Houston's defense played reasonably well for three quarters but was completely dominated in the fourth, allowing three Southern Miss touchdowns. In all, the Golden Eagles gained 608 yards of total offense and suffered no turnovers. Houston running back Bryce Beall, on the other hand, fumbled the ball three times. Needless to say, the coaches will be spending a lot of time working with him on his ball handling skills this week.

The important thing, however, is that the Coogs came away with the W. As a result of the win, the Cougars move up from #17 to #13 in the AP poll. They're now 15th in the Coaches poll and 15th in the BCS standing as well. In order to crash the BCS party, they need to be at least 12th. With non-automatic-qualifiers TCU and Boise State already in the top ten, however, I don't think the Cougars are going to be busting the BCS this year. That loss to UTEP really hurts in that regard. However, UTEP's loss to UAB last Saturday also means that the Cougars are once again in control of their own destiny regarding the division championship.

Which is significant in that the road doesn't get any easier from here. The Cougars now travel to Tulsa to play their second game of the "Golden Trifecta" against the Golden Hurricane. Needless to say, Tulsa has revenge on their minds after their 70-30 beating at the hands of Houston last season. The Coogs are in for another struggle, and the young defense must improve.

Given the history of the two schools, it should be no surprise that Saturday's game was as hard-fought as it was. Since the two teams joined Conference USA in 1996, USM has traditionally been Houston's nemesis. The games are oftentimes close - past scores inclide 56-49, 15-21, 29-35, 27-31 and even 3-6 - and the Golden Eagles command a 7-3 lead over the Coogs in the series.

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