Sure, the Houston Cougars (3-2, 2-0 Conference USA) wanted to beat Mississippi State last week and keep their 18-game home win streak alive.
But relative to their goals for the rest of the season for a Cougars offense that is down to Plan D at quarterback, the Mississippi State game was far more about getting the team's quarterback of the future some experience before getting back into the thick of the C-USA schedule.
The results for true freshman gunslinger David Piland in his first collegiate game weren't stellar, but there were glimpses of things to come.
"He's really a great quarterback," said Rice head coach David Bailiff, whose Owls will try to stop Piland in Saturday's rivalry game. "He does a great job getting rid of the football. Obviously he's not Case (Keenum) yet, but he's a very talented young man."
Getting Piland to look more like Case Keenum, the Cougars' fifth-year starter who is out for the season with a torn ACL -- he is planning to appeal to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility -- could be a lot easier if he had a little more help from those blocking for him.
Although Piland wasn't sacked, there were protection breakdowns that put pressure on him throughout the game, resulting in many missed opportunities.
"The offensive line and running backs need to do a better job protecting him," Houston running back Bryce Beall said. "There were situations where we couldn't protect him and he was getting hit and the timing was bad. We just have to get better at that and make him more comfortable so he doesn't feel like he has to rush his throws."
Piland completed 30 of 57 passes for 301 yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns in the 47-24 loss to Mississippi State. The future of the pass-happy program should have better luck this week playing Rice (1-5, 0-2), a team that is allowing more than 290 passing yards per game, second worst in the 12-team C-USA.
--The University of Houston announced fifth-year senior QB Case Keenum, who tore his ACL in a Sept. 18 loss to UCLA, will appeal to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility.
If granted, Keenum's pursuit of every passing record in the NCAA book would be renewed in 2011.
"After talking this over with my family and people close to me, I have decided to try for another year of eligibility," Keenum said. "This ending wasn't exactly what I predicted for my senior year and because I care so much about this team and this university, I would love to be able to play one more season."
Obviously, his head coach was pretty excited about the possibility of Keenum returning next year, especially considering the team seems headed toward handing over the future of the program to an inexperienced true freshman quarterback.
"I was excited to hear that he wanted to come back next season and I know his teammates were thrilled as well," head coach Kevin Sumlin said.
--There is a section in the Houston weekly media notes boasting about the Cougars' run game being "just as successful" as its high-powered passing attack this season. That certainly couldn't have been further from the truth last week when Mississippi State held Houston to 47 rushing yards.
Entering the game, Houston averaged 185.5 rushing yards through four games. The Cougars now sit at 157.8 per game and have fallen to sixth in C-USA.
--Someone forgot to tell Houston senior TE Wesley Scourten that blocking kicks in college football is supposed to be a rare occurrence. Scourten blocked a pair of field goals vs. Mississippi State last week, marking the second time in his career he's blocked multiple kicks in his career. He has three blocks in 2010 and six in his career.
--There are only two FBS rivalries featuring teams in the same city: Houston vs. Rice in Houston and UCLA vs. USC in Los Angeles.
SERIES HISTORY: Houston leads Rice 26-10 (last meeting, 2009, 73-14 Houston).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: A true freshman (QB David Piland) has been given the keys to the offense and there is no indication head coach Kevin Sumlin will tone down his pass-happy approach to allow his youngster time to catch up to the speed of the college game. Piland had better get some help from his offensive linemen soon if he doesn't want to spend another Saturday afternoon picking himself up off the turf after numerous knockdowns. The sack totals would be higher if the talented freshman didn't have such a quick release. Junior RB Bryce Beall gaining more than 17 rushing yards, as he did last week against Mississippi State, would help Piland's cause as well.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: That much-improved Cougars defense sure looked like the same old unit in an Oct. 9 loss to a Mississippi State team that racked up 409 rushing yards. The Bulldogs embarrassed a Houston team that lost run-stuffing NT Matangi Tonga early in the game due to a leg injury. Considering the injury will keep Tonga out of this week's game vs. Rice, the Cougars can expect more of the same with the Owls likely to keep it on the ground and mostly between the tackles all game. The silver lining might be for LB Marcus McGraw. Without Tonga, there will be plenty of stat-padding tackles to rack up as opposing RBs will consistently get to the second level on run plays, as they did last week when McGraw had 14 tackles vs. Mississippi State.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The original goals of this season are still out there, and that is to win a conference championship, and we want to keep the Bayou Bucket at Houston." -- Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin, referencing this week's rivalry game at Rice for the Bayou Bucket trophy.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Houston at Rice, Oct. 16 -- There are only two FBS rivalries featuring teams in the same city. Houston vs. Rice is one and the other is UCLA vs. USC. This game means a lot and after last year's 73-14 embarrassment, Rice hopes to take advantage of a Cougars team starting a true freshman under center.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Houston can't seem to stop the run so forget airing it out. With NT Matangi Tonga (leg injury) out of the interior line, Rice doesn't even need to bounce it outside. Go between the tackles at the heart of the Cougars' defense until it can stop you.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB David Piland -- Piland will face a far more manageable defense Oct. 16 vs. Rice than he saw in his college debut last week vs. Mississippi State. The true freshman will be given every opportunity to air it out. The Cougars' skill players could post some big numbers in the coming weeks, assuming he shows he has a grasp of the playbook.
LB Marcus McGraw -- The junior's 47 tackles lead the team and are fifth most in C-USA. And while his 14 tackles vs. Mississippi State last week were nice, if you want to claim you're the leader of the defense, you also get to bear some of the blame when that defense allows 409 rushing yards. McGraw and his crew have to get better in a hurry against the run.
RB Bryce Beall -- The junior did his freshman QB no favors last week with a rather pathetic 17-yard rushing effort against Mississippi State. The offensive line didn't help him out much, but Beall had better find a way to average more than 2.1 yards per carry if Houston doesn't want to kiss the season goodbye.
--True freshman QB David Piland will get the starting nod in his first C-USA game Saturday vs. Rice. In his first college game Oct. 9 vs. Mississippi State, Piland completed 30 of 57 passes for 301 yards, two TDs and two interceptions.
--Senior WR James Cleveland is supposed to start vs. Rice after being suspended for the Oct. 9 loss to Mississippi State for an unspecified violation of team rules. Cleveland, who was the 2009 C-USA Newcomer of the Year, has 20 receptions, 324 yards and three TDs this season.
--Although Houston officials haven't commented on what exactly happened to NT Matangi Tonga, the senior was on crutches at the end of the Oct. 9 loss to Mississippi State and isn't listed on the team's depth chart for its Oct. 16 game vs. Rice.