This story has played out before for Houston Cougars football fans.
It took only one game into the 2011 season to re-affirm the perception of the Cougars as a team that has as potent an offense as anyone in the nation, capable of dropping 30 points on you in a half if you aren't careful.
But the same Sept. 3 opener against UCLA that showed off the Houston offense also again showed a defense that will struggle to keep opposing teams from finding the end zone.
It's something Houston defensive coordinator Brian Stewart knows the nation will be watching this season, as Houston has BCS-busting hopes and a schedule that lines up pretty well to start moving up in the rankings -- throughout the first month of the season, at least.
The fact that Houston beat UCLA 38-34 wasn't enough for Stewart, who had a stern message to his defense after the win as they prepare for Week Two opponent North Texas.
"Whether we win the game or lose the game, let's play to the standards that we talked about and all agreed upon," Stewart said in the Houston Chronicle. "I think a lot of times in wins, you feel like as a player, you can say 'We played good enough to win,' or when you lose, you say 'We played good because we did this.' I think if you have standards to uphold, you uphold your standards, win, lose or draw."
The fact is the UCLA Bruins racked up 554 yards of total offense on the Cougars, and despite the triumphant return of sixth-year senior quarterback Case Keenum, whose heroics led Houston to 31 first-half points and earned him C-USA Offensive Player of the Week honors, the Bruins were still very much in the game in the closing minutes.
While Stewart hopes his defense doesn't have to rely on key stops down the stretch all season, he did point out that he feels his unit stepped up in crunch time to stop the Bruins when needed.
"I think our guys understand the urgency," Stewart said in the Houston Chronicle of the late stops. "We just have to be consistent."
--In his first game back on the field since tearing his ACL in a Sept. 18, 2010, game at UCLA, sixth-year senior QB Case Keenum lit it up last week in a rematch with the Bruins.
His 30-of-40 passing performance for 310 yards and two touchdowns in the 38-34 win over UCLA was good enough to snag the first C-USA Offensive Player of the Week award. For good measure, Keenum tested that knee by running the ball several times and gaining 30 yards.
His 340 yards of total offense were good to move him into fifth place on the NCAA career total offense chart with 14,788 yards, passing football greats like former Hawaii QB Colt Brennan and former BYU QB Ty Detmer. Former Texas great Colt McCoy (14,824) is next up on the list.
--WR Mark Roberts, a 6-foot-4 freshman, blocked a UCLA extra-point attempt in the fourth quarter on Sept. 3 to keep the Bruins more than a field goal away from tying the game.
The block was the 17th blocked kick in the head coach Kevin Sumlin era, good for second most in the nation during that time span (Sumlin began coaching in 2008).
The 17 blocks have come from seven different players and have included eight blocked field goals, six blocked PATs and three blocked punts.
Houston's 17 blocks since 2008 trails only Fresno State's 21 and is one better than the 16 blocks by the Florida Gators.
--Houston and BYU have finalized a home-and-home scheduling agreement that will bring the BYU Cougars to Robertson Stadium in Houston on Oct. 19, 2013, and see the Houston Cougars travel to LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah, on Sept. 27, 2014.
SERIES HISTORY: North Texas leads Houston 7-5 (last meeting, 1998, 31-9 Houston).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: If there were any questions about the Houston offense entering the season, sixth-year senior QB Case Keenum answered them and then some when he guided the team to scoring drives in five of the team's first six possessions in a Sept. 3 win over UCLA. The passing game is still potent, and the run game, led by senior RBs Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes, is dangerous enough to keep opposing defenses honest. The Cougars will again be able to light up the scoreboard on anyone this season.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The problem with Houston this season, as it has been in previous years, is the defense. The strength of the Cougars' defense is at linebacker, and the Sept. 3 opener against UCLA upheld that opinion, as LB Marcus McGraw rattled off 16 tackles and LB Sammy Brown, last year's C-USA leader in tackles for loss, registered 3.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The secondary wasn't bad, which was cause for some concern heading into the season, as all four starters are first-time starters for the Cougars. Still, there wasn't enough from the defensive front to put to rest concerns that teams can run on Houston, and not enough consistent pressure can be placed on opposing QBs this season to prevent opponents from lighting up scoreboards, too.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our challenge is to have our guys come in and be honest with themselves in their assessment with where we are and improve this week." -- Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Houston at North Texas, Sept. 10 -- The two teams have played 13 times in the series, but this will be the first in 13 years since Houston knocked off the Mean Green in 1998. The Cougars would like nothing more than a confidence booster for its defense this week, and keeping the Mean Green out of the end zone will be a focal point.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Week One was the much bigger test for the Cougars. Obviously, head coach Kevin Sumlin doesn't want to look past North Texas, but barring a mental collapse, there is little cause for concern against the Mean Green. If the offense gets into a rhythm with QB Case Keenum, the Cougars should easily get well into the 30s on the scoreboard (don't be surprised to see much more, however), and the defense has been challenged by its coaching staff to step up this week.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LB Sammy Brown -- Brown was in the UCLA backfield a lot on Sept. 3 and managed 3.5 tackles for loss, which is good for ranking No. 2 in the nation and leading C-USA after just one week of play. In the past eight games, dating back to Houston's Oct. 16 loss to Rice, Brown has 21 tackles for loss, and he led the conference in that statistic a season ago.
WR Tyron Carrier -- Carrier broke Houston's all-time record in all-purpose yards last week. He now has 5,941 career all-purpose yards and ranks No. 7 all-time in C-USA history. He also has a nation-leading 40-game streak with at least one reception.
LB Marcus McGraw -- After leading the team with 110 tackles in 2010, the undisputed leader of the Cougars' defense rattled off 16 tackles in the Sept. 3 opener against UCLA. He's an All-League candidate who has started 40 consecutive games, and he's moving up the school's career tackling charts in a hurry. He has 385 for his career and ranks No. 5 in Houston history. He needs 123 more tackles this season to break the school record. That means he has to average 11.2 tackles per game the rest of the regular season (11 games) or 10.3 tackles per game assuming the Cougars make a bowl game (12 more games).
--Sophomore SS Colton Valencia, a 2009 player for Texas A&M, sat out 2010 due to NCAA transfer rules but got the start last week against UCLA and is listed as an either/or starter for the team's Sept. 10 game at North Texas along with sophomore Kent Brooks.
Against the Bruins, Valencia was No. 2 on the Cougars' defense with 10 tackles. Brooks had four.
--K Jordan Mannisto had seven kickoffs against UCLA for an average of 66.3 yards and four touchbacks. He should keep those duties all season. In 2010, Mannisto played in five games and had seven kickoffs with four touchbacks.