Cougars aiming for best start in UH history

Cougars aiming for best start in school history as Keenum targets NCAA mark.

INSIDE SLANT

Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin has one of those problems very few of his coaching peers have much sympathy for.

At his weekly media conference Nov. 1, the head coach of the 8-0 Cougars was asked, as he has been for the entire season, about how he deals with having so many players -- senior quarterback Case Keenum chief among them -- seemingly setting more and more individual records every week. Do so many individual awards become a distraction or an ego issue for the Cougars?

"We look at those things as team awards," Sumlin said of the individual records. "If you watch the game ball presentations after the games closely, you will see that all of our guys are as happy as the guy receiving that ball. All of these things are by-products of winning. It's not a batting award; it's not just one guy trying to hit a ball. There are 10 guys that have to get things done. A lot of those yards are after the catch. We all recognize that."

The Cougars' entire team now sets its sights on another week of possibly gaining some respect in the national polls. Of course, the team's Nov. 5 opponent is a 1-7 UAB Blazers team that is arguably one of the bottom 10 or so teams in the nation. Respect is hard to come by in yet another game against a sub-.500 opponent, but the team has plenty to play for.

First, the Cougars are playing for the best start in school history at 9-0. Second, the team has another opportunity to light up the scoreboard and get some national attention for what could become college football's all-time most prolific offense this season.

And, of course, there is the weekly Case Keenum watch. The all-time record he is set to break this week if his weekly average holds up is the NCAA's all-time passing mark held by former Hawaii quarterback Timmy Chang. The 17,072 career passing yards thrown for by Chang are just 267 more than Keenum's 16,805.

But Keenum has been around long enough to know the euphoria of individual records and regular season success can only last so long.

"We obviously know that there is something special out there, but a lot of these guys were around in 2009 when we got up pretty high in the rankings and fell off towards the end of the year," Keenum said. "We know that was fun, but we also know there is a lot more out there."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The chemistry between Houston senior QB Case Keenum and senior WRs Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards -- all three seem to be setting new school, league or even national records every week -- is the stuff college football coaches dream of.

But it isn't just good fortune, says head coach Kevin Sumlin. The trio has put in plenty of work into getting where they are today.

"They have played a lot of football since they've been here and have been involved," Sumlin said. "People may or may not realize that football has become a year-round sport. What you see on Saturday is not necessarily a product of just the fall. Quarterbacks and receivers have the ability to really work year-round on their own, and that is how that chemistry has developed. They have been together for the better part of four years, and when we got here, they were all new so they all got started at the same time and are finishing at the same time. It's an advantage for chemistry, our team and for an overall understanding of what each other is doing."

--The Houston Cougars can't possibly keep up the record-setting offensive pace they've been playing at in the past month, can they?

Looking strictly at the stat sheet (never mind the fact that it appears the UAB Blazers have possibly already waved the white surrender flag on the season), it appears that the Cougars' Nov. 5 game at UAB could be the perfect storm for even more records to fall.

While Houston easily leads C-USA in scoring offense (52.2 points per game), total offense (612.4 yards per game) and passing offense (453.2 passing yards per game), the Blazers rank in the bottom three in the league in scoring defense (35.1 points allowed per game), total defense (481.2 yards allowed per game) and passing defense (284.9 passing yards allowed per game).

--The Cougars are firmly in the poll-watching business these days.

They improved to 8-0 on the season with an Oct. 27 blowout win over cross-town rival Rice and moved up in both the AP and USA Today coaches' top-25 polls from No. 18 in each poll to No. 14.

The Cougars also moved up from No. 17 to No. 13 in the Oct. 30 BCS standings with a BCS average of .4698. That is the highest ranking the Cougars have ever had in the BCS standings (No. 15 in the 2009 BCS was the previous high).

"It's a big deal," senior S Nick Saenz said. "It's hard to ignore, but we just try to stay focused and play game by game. The rankings will come with the wins, so we just try to stay focused on each game."

SERIES HISTORY: UAB leads Houston 4-3 (last meeting, 2008, 45-20 Houston).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Cougars are playing as good on offense as any team in the nation and, simply looking at the stat sheet, it appears nobody is even close. The chemistry between QB Case Keenum and WRs Patrick Edwards and Tyron Carrier is the stuff college football coaches dream of.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin gets almost as tired of fielding the same "How good is your offense?" questions as he does fielding the weekly "How bad is your defense?" questions. The reality is the Houston defense and the team's weak schedule are the reasons Houston is the only undefeated team not only sitting outside the top five in the national polls, but not even in the top 10. The Cougars' defense actually ranks No. 4 in C-USA in scoring defense thanks to a shutout over FCS Georgia State and a 56-3 win over East Carolina. But outside of those two games, the Cougars have allowed an average of more than 32 points per game. The team struggles against the pass, and run and while this week's opponent (UAB) may not test them much, the critics still foresee troubled waters ahead in sure shootouts against potent offenses like Tulsa and SMU in mid to late November.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is what I came here for. I knew that with this program it was a possibility. We are working really hard every day for it." -- Houston sophomore P Richie Leone on the team's pursuit for a perfect regular season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Houston at UAB, Nov. 5 -- The 8-0 Cougars didn't play a road game in October (a bye and three-straight C-USA blowouts in Robertson Stadium took care of that). Houston takes their offensive show on the road in hopes of continuing to impress voters. UAB, meanwhile, is 1-7 and doesn't have much of a home-field advantage to speak of and is just trying to save face on what has been an embarrassing season.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Cougars can't get caught up in the team's gaining momentum in the national polls and in the national spotlight. Jumping out big early in games seems to not only energize the Cougars, but deflate their opponents. The Cougars haven't been great on the road this year, though, and haven't played outside of Houston since September, so the first quarter of this game could be the telling quarter -- will the Cougars revert to road struggles?

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

LB Marcus McGraw -- The undisputed leader of the defense has all the respect in the world from his head coach. "Marcus has been a guy that has started every game since he has been here," Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "You almost take him for granted." McGraw leads the team and is No. 5 in C-USA in tackles with 80 in eight games. He knows what the critics say about this team, and he has been leading the defensive charge to try to change the perception of there being no defense in Houston. But he can't do it alone.

WR Patrick Edwards -- He posted an NCAA season-high 318 receiving yards in the Cougars' Oct. 27 win over Rice. He enters a Nov. 5 league showdown at UAB just one yard shy of the national receiving lead of 1,070 yards held by Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles.

P Richie Leone -- The sophomore doesn't get much of an opportunity to show off his booming leg with Houston's offense rarely requiring a punt. In fact, Leone's 45.9 yards-per-punt average would rank No. 2 in C-USA and No. 8 in the nation if he had the minimum required number of punts per game (3.6) to be eligible for the national rankings. Leone has 25 punts this season (3.1 per game). Still, he was one of 54 punters named this week to the Ray Guy Award watch list for the nation's top punter.

ROSTER REPORT

--SS Colton Valencia is still being watched closely after suffering a concussion on Sept. 29 at UTEP. He has been limited to just one tackle since that game because he has been either held out of games altogether or had his on-field opportunities cut significantly.

He and SS Nick Saenz are penciled in equally as an either/or starter atop the depth chart for this week's game at UAB.

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